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

Friday’s openings redux: Politics and polio

Two movies to add to the list of Friday's mainstream openings. They are:

"Breathe": True-life story of Robin and Diana Cavendish, a British couple who had to deal with Robin's polio, which he contracted at age 28. Prepare to be inspired.

"Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House": Liam Neeson plays the title character, made a legend by the Washington Post as the pseudonymous source "Deep Throat." Prepare to be, uh, "Taken"?

That's the lot. So go, see a movie. Eat some popcorn. And try to enjoy.

‘Shop of Horrors’ is coming for Halloween

Halloween is best celebrated by walking the streets, rainy, cold or whatever, carrying big bags. Costumes are optional, but only for adults accompanying the children, who will stuff those bags full of the loot they beg from neighbors in that old tradition of trick or treating.

Side note: Once in the early '90s, while walking with my tween-age daughter and two of her pals, I dressed like Jason Voorhees, complete with hockey mask (but without the machete). I'd stand on the sidewalk, mute. More than one person, even adults, walked in the opposite direction when they saw me. It was glorious.

Anyway, other than on the night itself — Tuesday, Oct. 31 — what's the best way to celebrate Halloween? Going to see a movie, of course. And at 2 and 7 p.m., on both Oct. 29 and 31, Regal's Northtown Mall Cinemas will get into the act by screening a Fathom Events special Director's Cut version of the 1986 "Little Shop of Horrors."

This musical version of the film, which was based on the Broadway show, will feature the original ending, plus an "exclusive introduction" from director Frank Oz. Oz, of course, is both a filmmaker and the voice of the Muppet Miss Piggy.

Don't miss out. Come dressed as a carnivorous plant if you want. Or maybe even Jason Vorhees.

It should be glorious.

Friday at the Lantern: Tales of two legends

As the Magic Lantern is opening two movies, I'm giving the place its own separate post. This is especially appropriate considering that each film is about a legend in his own field.

The Lantern's Friday openings are:

"Lucky": The late Harry Dean Stanton stars as a 90-year-old guy who goes on a spiritual journey. It'd be worth it just to see another performance by one of the great characters actors in film history.

"Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton": Documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy takes us into the world of one of the world's premier big-wave surfers.

If you go, tell Jonathan that I said hi.

Friday’s openings: Partly cloudy, chance of fun

Looks like varied weather conditions will be moving in on Friday's national movie-release front, which is as follows:

"Geostorm": The world is threatened when a dark force takes over the satellite controlling Earth's weather and begins systematically destroying city after city. Congress will debate the problem when they return from recess.

"Only the Brave": A group of hardy firefighters takes a stand when fire threatens their town. Based on real events.

"The Snowman": Norwegian novelist Jo Nesbø's book about detective Harry Hole tracking down a serial killer is brought to the big screen by the same guy, Thomas Alfredson, who gave us the original "Let the Right One In." Expect the creeps.

"Same Kind of Different As Me": When a woman's dreams about a mysterious man seem to come true, the ensuing events change the course of her marriage — and her husband's life — for the better. Bring a hankie.

"Tyler Perry's Boo 2: A Madea Halloween": More Madea (Tyler Perry), this time encountering strange things on a haunted campground. Comic frights.

As usual, I'll update when the local theaters finalize this schedules.

‘Victoria and Abdul’: The hidden story

If your movie preferences run to historical drama, then you might appreciate Stephen Frears' new film, "Victoria and Abdul." Following is the review of the film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

The Buddha supposedly once said that three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth. Whether he did say it is far less important than what it’s supposed to mean – which, of course, is that sooner later, no matter the obstacle, the truth will out.

That’s especially true today, when charges of fakery on the political scene are as common as Seattle rain clouds. It’s always been true in Hollywood, where historical depictions take liberties with actual fact for the sake of dramatic effect.

And, to be honest, many movie fans believe that Hollywood, at least, can be forgiven. After all, as Hedy Lamarr once said, “I can excuse everything but boredom.” And who, really, wants to sit through a boring movie?

This brings us to “Victoria & Abdul,” the latest film by the great Stephen Frears. Seventy-six years old and still directing, Frears is known for such films as “My Beautiful Launderette,” “The Grifters,” “High Fidelity,” “The Queen” and last year’s “Florence Foster Jenkins.” Through it all, he has proven to be one of the great filmmaker of the past three decades.

Written by Lee Hall, adapted from the book by Shrabani Basu, “Victoria and Abdul” reveals the unusual, real-life friendship between Queen Victoria – who ruled the British empire for 63 years – and Abdul Karim, a lowly clerk who rose to heights unprecedented for an Indian-born commoner.

Chosen to present a medal to the queen for her 1887 Golden Jubilee, Abdul attracts her attention with his heights and good looks (to underscore this, we are told least twice that he is a handsome man). Whatever the reasons, Victoria soon has Abdul appointed her Munshi – or teacher – and guiding her through lessons in the Hindustani language Urdu.

If this isn’t enough to worry her son, Bertie – the Prince of Wales and future King Edward the 7th – it gets worse. The queen houses Abdul and his family in what is little more than a mini-mansion. She has his portrait painted. She and Abdul go on holiday by themselves, scandalizing the whole of Windsor Castle.

It is only when Victoria expresses a desire to confer a knighthood on Abdul that the royal household rebels. And though she backs down, regretfully, she does so in a way that reminds everyone what royal power truly is and just who it is who wields it.

Much of what occurs in Frears’ movie has a basis in fact, though most of the official records were purposely burned by Bertie’s royal decree following Victoria’s death in 1901. Author Basu based his book largely on the real Abdul’s diary – which, of course, was likely a bit self-serving.

Whatever the truth, “Victoria and Abdul” is powered not just by Frears’ steady hand but by the performances both of the Oscar-winning Judi Dench as Victoria and Bollywood star Ali Fazal as Abdul.

And it represents a version of the truth that was hidden for a century but, finally, did manage to find its way into the light. Turns out, not for the first time, the Buddha was right.

Reza Aslan tackles ‘God’ Nov. 13 at The Bing

Though events occur almost daily (or should that be nightly) at Auntie's Bookstore, sometimes it pays to look ahead. Which is what attracted me to an Auntie's-sponsored event that will take place on Monday, Nov. 13.

 A 7 p.m. reading at The Bing Crosby Theater by author Reza Aslan.

Aslan, an Iranian-born American citizen, is the author of four books, including the best-selling "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth." For this tour, he will be reading from his latest book, "God: A Human History." Aslan’s degrees include a B.A. in Religious Studies from Santa Clara University, a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and a Ph.D. in the Sociology of Religions from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Here are some reviews of "God: A Human History":

Publishers Weekly: "The book showcases Aslan’s signature style—verging on academic but always accessible—and his methodological agnosticism as he sets aside claims of truth about 'God' in order to explore theories on how humans have come to believe in gods, humanize them, deify humanity, and conceive of gods across the ages."

Kirkus Review: "Aslan provides an intriguing glimpse into the history of primitive human belief systems, as evidenced by such archaeological remains as cave paintings, burial sites, and primitive temples. He goes further to explore psychological and physiological reasons for the birth of belief."

Those interested in attending can get a free ticket by purchasing a hardback (or audiobook) copy of "God: A Human History" from Auntie's. Otherwise, tickets are $10.

Discuss ‘Dolores’ at the Lantern on Friday

The name Dolores Huerta doesn't come easily to mind. Not to many of us. Certainly not as easily as Cesar Chavez does.

Chavez, of course, was the labor organizer and civil rights activist who cofounded the United Farm Workers union. He became the face of the movement, the symbol who was hated in in some corners just as he was beloved in others.

But Chavez did not work alone. Huerta was the cofounder of the National Farm Workers Association, which morphed into the UFW. And she was active in the labor movement before and long after meeting Chavez (who died in 1993).

Huerta is the central focus of "Dolores," a documentary film made by Peter Bratt that will open Friday at the Magic Lantern. A special event will follow Friday's 7 p.m. screening: a Q&A with the audience.

The discussion will be moderated by a three-person panel: Dr. Norma Cárdenas, Interim Director in Chicana and Chicano Studies Program at Eastern Washington University; Professor Elisha Miranda, EWU Film Program Co-Director; and Dr. Jessica Willis of EWU's department of Women’s and Gender Studies.

Tickets ($9) can be purchased ahead of time on magiclanternonmain.com or at the door 30 minutes prior to showings. For further information, call (509) 209-2383.

Friday’ openings redux: Be ‘Brave,’ young princess

Most everything I posted Monday about Friday's movie openings is correct — except for including the week's selection in Disney's "Dream Big, Princess" marathon. To that end, the film is:

"Brave" (2009): Determined to forge her own future, Princess Merida (voice by Kelly Macdonald) breaks with tradition and attracts a curse. To break free, she must be … well, the title says it all.

Here are some critical comments:

Variety: " 'Brave' offers a tougher, more self-reliant heroine for an era in which princes aren't so charming, set in a sumptuously detailed Scottish environment where her spirit blazes bright as her fiery red hair."

Melissa Anderson, Village Voice: "The animation studio's first film with a female protagonist, a defiant lass who acts as a much-welcome corrective to retrograde Disney heroines of the past and the company's unstoppable pink-princess merchandising."

Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly: "Merida may be a headstrong heroine, a feisty animated hybrid who calls to mind Katniss Everdeen, Bella Swan, and the neo-fairy-tale protagonist who faces off against her evil stepmother in 'Snow White and the Huntsman.' But she is also, for safety's sake, a nice girl in a pretty green dress who loves her family and believes in dynasty."

Make sure to bring your tiara.

Catch a zombie (or three) on Thursday

We're still a couple of weeks away from Halloween, but local movie theaters are already showing trick-of-treat spirit. Case in point: At 7:30 p.m. Thursday, the Garland Theater will screen the 2009 comic-horror flick "Zombieland."

Here's how IMDB describes the film: "A shy student (Jesse Eisenberg) trying to reach his family in Ohio, a gun-toting tough guy trying to find the last Twinkie (Woody Harrelson), and a pair of sisters trying to get to an amusement park (Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin) join forces to travel across a zombie-filled America."

Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune: "For rambunctious laughs, you can hardly beat Zombieland, a pedal-to-the-metal mix of ghoul gore, smartmouth humor and filmmaking savvy."

Lisa Kennedy, Denver Post: "Let's just say that if laughter distinguishes humans from zombies, then you'll know just how human you are after the quartet's visit to a mansion in Los Angeles."

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "The humor is vicious and the supporting cast is viscous. But underlying the carnage in Zombieland is a sweetly beating heart."

The treat, though, is that the film will be introduced by Nathan Weinbender, Music and Film Editor for the Inlander (and my partner on the Spokane Public Radio show "Movies 101"). Make sure to ask Nathan if he's going to hold a post-screening discussion.

Oh, and costumes are optional.

Friday’s openings: Jackie Chan and other stuff

I usually use a lot of words to describe the coming week's movies. But this time I'm going to use only two: Jackie Chan. The Hong Kong action star plays one of his serious roles, that of a father hunting down those responsible for … well, I'll add more below.

The openings on this week's national schedule:

"The Foreigner": Chan wants revenge, and he turns out to have the expertise needed to get it. His Irish targets don't stand a chance.

"Happy Death Day": A college undergraduate is murdered, again and again, until she figures out who her killer is. Think "Final Destination" meets "Groundhog Day."

"Marshall": Long before he was a U.S. Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall was an attorney in a number of racial cases. This bio-pic details one of them.

"Professor Marston & the Wonder Women": It turns out the man who dreamed up the character of Wonder Woman had his own ideas on the institution of marriage — as did the two women he was interested in.

And at the Magic Lantern:

"Dolores": A documentary about Dolores Huerta, one of the founders (along with Cesar Chavez) of the organization that become United Farm Workers.

I'll update when the local listings become available.

‘Brad’s Status’ is one of insatiable self-doubt

"Brad's Status" is writer-director Mike White's look into the life of a guy who seemingly has everything — but can't escape the feeling that it simply isn't enough. Following is the review of the film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

It’s hard to empathize with Brad Sloan. He seems to have pretty much everything – a career that stresses goodwill over mere financial reward, a loving and supportive wife, and a son smart and talented enough to quality for admission to Harvard.

Yet Brad is troubled. While accompanying his son on a visit to Harvard, among other potential colleges, he struggles to sleep. As happens to many of us, particularly when we hit middle age, Brad has regrets. Plagued by thoughts of his college buddies, at least three of whom seem to have more fame and riches than the average person can even imagine possessing, Brad wonders if he hasn’t sold himself short.

Was his wife too accepting of him, tempting him to settle for mediocrity? Will he be able to handle his son’s success if it somehow outshines his own accomplishments? What is wrong with him, anyway?

Good questions all. As for that last one, most of us would say nothing, except for his anguish over emotions that are little more than self-absorbed, ultimately self-defeating fantasies. Fantasies, by the way – as one of his son’s former schoolmates tells him – that are more a reflection of his privileged place in the world than anything else.

After all, what he has is better than the vast majority of the world’s population. His truly are, to use a popular term, first-world problems.

But, he insists, “This is my life.” Right, we might agree. So why not appreciate it?

That seems to be the point that writer-director Mike White is trying to emphasize with his film, which h titles simply enough, “Brad’s Status.” White, whose screenwriting career betrays a wide range of themes and tones – from the merely entertaining “School of Rock” to the issue-oriented “Beatriz at Dinner” – is inordinately kind to Brad. In any event, he doesn’t mock him. Maybe that’s because White himself is the exact age, 47, as that of his protagonist. And, maybe, he has come to understand that age – sometimes in the middle of the night – brings with it a nearly insistent sense that things could have, might have, been better had we made different choices. If we had, as Thoreau wrote, stepped to the beat of a different drummer.

What is clear is that White understands someone like Brad, captured so well by the actor Ben Stiller who himself has portrayed a range of characters, from the farcically outlandish Derek Zoolander to the self-destructive Jerry Stahl of the 1998 film “Permanent Midnight.” White also understands Brad’s son Troy, underplayed to perfection by newcomer Austin Abrams, whose obvious love for his father adds just another complicated layer to Brad’s emotional crisis.

And, too, White understands that such feelings are, for most of us, fleeting – the kinds of emotions that we entertain, then either ignore, forget or simply laugh off.

It takes Brad a while longer. And he puts himself, his son and us – the movie audience – through more than a bit of emotional torment along the way. Until he, in White’s capable filmmaking hands, finds a way to resolutely update his status.

Averett to read from mystery ‘Scablands’ Friday at Auntie’s

Ed Averett is a longtime Spokane resident, now living in Ecuador, who had a long career as a therapist. In his spare time, though, besides working and helping his wife Mary to raise their family, he wrote.

And he became pretty good at it. You'll be able to see just how good at 7 p.m. Friday at Auntie's Bookstore when Averett shows up to read from his new book, the mystery "Scablands."

Described by Kirkus as a tale of "forensic psychologist in the mid-1990s (who) consults on an investigation of the murder of her former intern," the novel is getting good reviews.

The Kirkus reviewer went on to write, "Readers may find some of the material that Carmen digs into, such as pornography, to be relatively tame, but they give the protagonist opportunities to view the case from a more clinical perspective, which adds credibility to the story. Her narration is rife with questions, effectively indicating the amateur sleuth’s tendency to constantly examine what she’s learned."

Pornography tame? That's a new one. Have to check out that book to see for myself.

Friday’ openings redux: The isms of sex and age

And so come the amendments to Friday's movie listings. Along with the films that I mentioned on Monday, the following will also open:

"Battle of the Sexes": Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris ("Little Miss Sunshine") directed this sports drama based on the real-life 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs (Emma Stone and Steve Carell star as the principal players). No love lost between these two.

"Victoria and Abdul": Judi Dench and Ali Fazal ("Bollywood Hero") star as the real-life odd couple Queen Victoria and her young Indian clerk. Not quite Oscar and Felix, but …

"The Princess and the Frog": Another in the Disney "Dream Big, Princess" marathon, this 2009 animated film centers on a young woman who is convinced that kissing a frog will turn him back into a prince. Yeah, heard that one before.

Now go, see a movie. Buy some popcorn. And enjoy.

Lantern holds ‘Monday Movies’ series

If you were at the Magic Lantern Theater on Monday, you likely were there to watch the documentary film "Bending the Arc." A study of doctors working in Haiti to provide healthcare to the poor, the film is the first in a series titled "Monday Movies" that the Lantern will be screening through Nov. 27.

The series is a partnership between the theater, The Alliance for Media Arts + Culture and the newspaper The Black Lens. Its intent is to show movies that, according to Wendy Levy, executive director of The Alliance for Media Arts + Culture, "are all about transformative experiences we have as human beings, and the larger issues we must address together, as families and communities."

The first eight films in the series are, in the words of a press release, films "focused on dramatic personal stories about people, issues and experiences in the public health care system."

The series will continue Monday, Oct. 9. The schedule will be as follows:

Oct. 9, "Unrest": A Harvard graduate student faces the trial of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Oct. 16, "Motherland": Expectant mothers teams with care-givers in the Philippines' busiest maternity hospital.

Oct. 23, "Swim Team": Autistic children compete on a New Jersey swim team.

Oct. 30, "The Waiting Room": Four patients experience a day in the life of an emergency room in an inner-city hospital.

 Nov. 13, "The Genius of Marian": Filmmaker Banker White documents the struggles of his mother, suffering from Alzheimer's, as she tries to preserve the work of her artist mother — who also had Alzheimer's.

Nov. 20, "Private Violence": Two women who survived murder attempts help document the realities of intimate partner violence.

Nov. 27, "The Revolutionary Optimists": Healthcare activists in Kolkata work to get the Indian government to provide running water to their clinic.

Tickets to each screening run $8. 

Friday’s openings: ‘Blade Runner 2049’ leads

For fans of science fiction, particularly those who admire Ridley Scott's 1982 film "Blade Runner," the coming week should offer a treat like no other: the long-awaited sequel, "Blade Runner 2049."

That film will highlight the national Friday openings schedule, which features:

"Blade Runner 2049": Directed by Denis Villeneuve ("Arrival," "Sicario"), this followup to one of the greatest sci-fi films ever made stars Ryan Gosling as a new-generation blade runner who tracks down his predecessor, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), in the process of investigating a mystery. Can't wait.

"The Mountain Between Us": Following an airplane accident that leaves them stranded on a snow mountaintop, two strangers (Idris Elba, Kate Winslet) have to depend on each other to survive. And what did you do on your holiday?

"My Little Pony": "A dark force threatens Ponyville …" and that's as far as I got reading the IMDB description. Yes, another kiddie film based on a product for sale.

That's the lot so far. I'll update when the local listings become available.