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

Friday’s openings: Chuckles and bloodletting

Comedy and drama lead the list of those movies opening Friday, according to the national release schedule. The openings are:

"Uncle Drew": When a guy gets desperate to win a city basketball tournament, he ends up recruiting a team of veterans (members of which are played by former professional stars such as Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Webber, Kyrie Irving and Lisa Leslie).

"Sicario 2: Soldado": Benicio Del Toro returns as the assassin Alejandro, who face a decision about whether to show loyalty to a friend or show compassion to a young girl.

As always, I'll update when the local theaters finalize their respective schedules.

Relaxing on a Mediterranean island called Lipari

This is a shot of the village of Lipari, on the largest island — also named Lipari — of the Aeolian Islands, which sit just northeast of Sicily. My wife took it just as we arrived on the hydrofoil ferry from Naples more than six hours earlier.

We're staying here a week, relaxing (as I write this, it is raining), reading and going out on occasion for food.

So one movie reference: Perhaps the most famous of the Aeolian chain is Stromboli, which not only has an active volcano but is the name of a 1950 movie directed by Roberto Rossellini and starring Ingrid Bergman.

And some book recommendations: My summer reading, especially when we travel internationally, is typically eclectic. My reads (grades included) so far include: "The Late Show" by Michael Connelly (C+), "The Midnight Line" by Lee Child" (B-), "Street Fight in Naples" by Peter Robb (B), "The Liars' Club" by Mary Karr (A+) and "A Spool of Blue Thread" by Anne Tyler (A).

Oh, and by the way, that bright light next to the moon there is the planet Venus.

Friday’s openings redux: Crime and Mr. Rogers

And the final bookings are in, which makes Friday's movie scene — along with the films I've already announced — look like this:

"American Animals": A heist film, based on a real story, that involves four young men who commit a crime that even the movies might find outlandish. And Quentin Tarantino did NOT direct.

"Won't You Be My Neighbor?": A documentary about the life and career of Fred Rogers, the man better known as Mr. Rogers. Now, where are my tennis shoes?

That's the lot. So go, see a movie. And enjoy.

Florence 2018: A city as beautiful as ever

When tourists flock to Italy, as so many do on an annual basis, they invariably hit three major spots: Rome, Venice and Florence. Of those three, I've spent the most time in Florence.

There was the time, when working for Bloomberg Government, that I spent a month in Rome — living in an apartment and commuting every day by bus to an office in the Piazza del Popolo. But that was, for me, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Mostly, I've traveled in Italy as a tourist, accompanying my university-law-professor wife. And after this most recent of our excursions, we will have visited all 20 of the country's regions — including Sicity and Sardinia. Not exactly the same thing as visiting all 50 states, which we both also have done, but close enough.

At the moment, we're in Florence, the home of Dante and so many world-class sites it would take an entire guidebook to list them all. So I thought I'd start with one of the most famous: the Ponte Vecchio (see photo above).

Translated as merely Old Bridge, which sounds far more pedestrian than the Italian version, the Ponte Vecchio was built at the closest spot where the Arno River separates the city center from the city's southern neighborhood (known as the Oltrarno). It dates back to Roman times, though the first historical reference to it was in 996.

Since then, it has been destroyed and rebuilt on numerous occasions. It managed to survive World War II, though it was damaged during the famous 1966 Arno flood. Today, it is a traditional meeting place, where tourists, musicians and street performers of all types congregate amid the sight-seekers who window shop along the various jewelry stores that line both sides.

It is also one of the most photographed bridges in the world. This is just my latest contribution.

Friday’ openings: Once again, dinos rule the Earth

Update: Adding the Magic Lantern opening (see below).

Another one of the summer's expected blockbusters, the latest in the continuation of the "Jurassic Park" franchise, is set for release on Friday — which pretty much means that nothing else is going to challenge it.

So, according the the national movie-release schedule, the week's single mainstream opening is:

"Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom": Directed by Catalan-born director J.A. Bayona, who gave us the 2007 chiller "The Orphanage," this latest offering in the dinosaur saga has our protagonists — led by Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen (Chris Pratt) — striving to save the island's remaining creatures from an erupting volcano. Oh, and a raging T-Rex or two.

And at the Magic Lantern:

"The Seagull": An all-star cast, including Saoirse Ronan, Elizabeth Moss and Annette Bening, star in a filmed adaptation of the Chekhov play. Vodka, please.

I'll update as the local theaters finalize their lineups.

One of SpIFF’s hit, ‘Summer 1993,’ comes to the Lantern

Frida (Laia Artigas) is just 6 years old and already her life has gone wrong. Her mother has just died, preceded by her father, and the circumstances of their deaths are never made clear.

Yet the actions of those around her – especially those of a mother who won’t let her daughter near Frida’s skinned knee – suggest something familiarly dire. And the feeling those actions rouse give the film “Summer 1993” a kind of dark undercurrent uncommon in a film seen through a child’s eyes.

Clearly, though, Frida is no ordinary child. As explored by writer-director Carla Simón, a Catalan filmmaker whose movie played at February’s Spokane International Film Festival, she is full of mistrust. And she expresses that unease by appearing prenaturally calm, seemingly emotionless.

So when Frida is taken in by her uncle (her mother’s brother), his wife and their own 4-year-old daughter, she nearly sleepwalks through the experience. At times she reacts like any normal young girl, while at others she seems distant even when her new guardians treat her with kindness.

She seems to be waiting. And as she does, she pushes the limits of what would be acceptable behavior.

Which is what makes Simón’s film, which opens today at the Magic Lantern Theater, so poignant. Based on the filmmaker's own experiences, it takes us into mind of a child who has been so hurt by life that it’s questionable whether she’ll every be able to again trust anyone.

“Summer 1993,” which is in Catalan with English subtitles, was a hit at SpIFF 2018. And deservedly so. Not to give anything away, but its climax just may wrench your heart – though, if you’re open to the experience, it'll happen in a good way.

Studio Ghibli Fest 2018 continues with ‘Pom Poko’

Fans of Japanese animation will be glad to know that Studio Ghibli Fest 2018 continues Sunday, Monday and Wednesday with Isao Takahata's 1994 film "Pom Poko" (or "The Racoon War").

The film, which tells the tale of animals fighting against human development of their traditional homeland, will screen at 12:55 Sunday and 7 p.m. Wednesday in dubbed versions and at 7 p.m. Monday in original language with English subtitles, at the Regal Cinemas theaters at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

Here are some critical comments:

Andy Webster, New York Times: "Its ecological concerns, nuance and occasional lyricism place it squarely within the Ghibli oeuvre."

Austin Trunick, Under the Radar: "Pom Poko isn't regarded as one of the tent poles of the Studio Ghibli canon, though it deserves to be."

MaryAnn Johnson, Flick Filosopher: "Deeply affecting and visually mesmerizing, this is one of the best animated movies I've ever seen."

Friday’s openings redux: Hustlers and horses

Looks as if there are a couple of additions to Friday's movie-release schedule. Along with those already mentioned, they are:

"The Rider": A young cowboy suffers a head injury during a rodeo event and faces the challenge of how to shape his future. What does it really mean to cowboy up?

"Gotti": John Travolta portrays the former Mafia boss in this biographical look at him and his son, John Jr. (Spencer Rosso Lofranco). Cue the "Sopranos" theme.

That seems to be the lot. Now go, see a movie. And enjoy.


Go ahead, it’s OK to laugh at ‘Space Mutiny’

No kind of movie is funnier than one that's intentionally bad. But then there is a special place in the comedy pantheon for movies that are unintentionally bad.

"Space Mutiny" is one of the latter. Which is what makes it the perfect foil for the RiffTrax guys. An offshoot of the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" series, "RiffTrax Live" uses the same movie-viewing format: A trio watches a bad movie and makes snarky remarks throughout the screening.

Which is what will happen at 8 p.m. Thursday (and again at 7:30 p.m. next Tuesday) at Regal Cinemas theaters at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium. "RiffTrax Live: Space Mutiny" will feature the 1988 sci-fi flick "Space Mutiny," a little-known film that even devotees of bad movies dislike.

One fan reviewer had this to say: "The worst elements of 1980s style, effects, and cheesiness are present. The things that some people ironically celebrate about the decade. I could not stomach it. I had to skip through most of this garbage."

But that was the movie. And the RiffTrax guys — Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett — specialize in gag-a-moment commentary that lighten the mood … well, if not completely then at least enough.

Friday’s openings: Comedy hits the mainstream

Comedy, both animated and live-action, are on tap for Friday's moviegoing enjoyment. At least, that's what the national movie-release schedule indicates on this week of split-schedule openings. The week's major openings are:


"SuperFly": This remake of the 1972 blaxploitation flick about a drug dealer looking for one final score was directed by Director X ("Across the Line") and stars Trevor Jackson. Expect some gunplay.


"Incredibles 2": It's been some 14 years since writer-director Brad Bird gave us his take on a family with superpowers that is forced, by law, to live as normal humans. This time, the family faces more domestic issues when Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) is left to watch the kids as Mrs. Incredible (Holly Hunter) is out saving the world.

"Tag": A quintet of friends continue the same game of "tag" that they've played for decades. One of the group, though, has never been "it."

And at the Magic Lantern on Friday?

"Summer 1993": A young girl whose mother had died goes to live with her country relatives and struggles to find the sense of trust she needs to recover. In Catalan with English subtitles. Note: This film was a popular addition to the most recent Spokane International Film Festival.

Kubrick wears well, especially in Italy

For old-school movie fans, nothing beats watching a film on the big screen. And while today's theaters are ultra-contemporary, what with state-of-the-art digital projection and sound — not to mention adjustable reclining seats — some older theaters still offer the best experience.

Such a theater exists in Florence, Italy, in the Palazzo della Strozzino, just off the Piazza della Repubblica. It's called the Cinema Odeon Firenze, and it is especially valuable to English-speaking moviegoers when it screens American and British movies in "original language" presentations. Which means: no subtitles.

On Monday night, that's how I saw a revival of Stanley Kubrick's 1968 sci-fi film "2001: A Space Odyssey." Some movies you can see once and know you've learned all you need. Others you might wish you hadn't wasted the time. Kubrick's masterpiece — an overused word, I know, but appropriate in this case — is one you can see numerous times and still see (and maybe feel) something new.

This time I was intrigued to see, during Dr. Heywood Floyd's flight to the moon station, that a pair of flight attendants were watching what looked like a judo contest. As with many other Kubrick touches, that felt so utterly random that I actually laughed out loud. And yet it didn't spoil the overall, meditatively mysterious tone of the movie at all. 

I was fortunate enough to be part of a team that presented "2001: A Space Odyssey" at The Bing in 2015. It looked good then, and it looked even better at The Odeon, whose seats are as lush and comfortable as the theater itself is representative of old-world splendor.

I see movies at The Odeon every chance I get. If you ever visit Florence, and get tired of museum-hopping, you might seek it out. It's a real treat, especially during the hot, humid days of summer.

The short video below gives just a hint of how glamorous the theater is.

Catch Tom Baker’s ‘Doctor Who’ on Monday

All "Doctor Who" fans have their favorite Doctors. Often, that choice involves the actor whom the fan first began watching.

I'm a bit different. My two favorites are David Tennant (10th) and Matt Smith (11th), and on any given day I might rank them one over the other. Still, I first began watching Tom Baker, the fourth Doctor, on Spokane Public Television during the 1980s, and so I do have a certain fondness for him, too.

Which makes particularly special the fact that Baker is being featured in a special movie-length screening titled "Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks," which will screen at 7 p.m. Monday at the Regal Cinemas theaters at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

The so-called "Director's Cut" is timed to coordinate with the Blu-ray release of Baker's first season (1974) as the Doctor. And it is no doubt designed to rouse interest in the series, which is set to debut Jodie Whittaker as the first woman Doctor Who sometime in the fall.

If you go, you might want to wear a long scarf — even if the weather wouldn't otherwise dictate it. Baker's Doctor would likely appreciate it.

Friday’s openings redux: Crises in faith and the future

We have a couple of adjustments to make to Friday's movie-release schedule. In addition to the films already mentioned, we can expect:

"First Reformed": Ethan Hawke plays a middle-age priest of a small New York church whose troubled past complicates his progressively turbulent present, leading to a personal act of penance. Be warned: It's written and directed by Paul Schrader.

And on Wednesday, June 13:

"SuperFly": A remake of the 1972 movie about a drug dealer who wants to make one big score before he retires. This is said to be a reimagination of the story for a new generation.

That's the lot. So go, see a movie. And enjoy.

Magic Lantern set to screen ‘Purple Rose’

Above: Janel Parish ("Pretty Little Liars") stars in "The Purple Rose," which was filmed in Liberty Lake and Cheney.

So, there's at least one addition to the week's coming movie schedule. Beginning Saturday, the Magic Lantern will screen a special feature that was filmed last year in Liberty Lake.

"The Purple Rose," which was directed by Jodi Binstock, is based on a novel written by Liberty Lake author Christi Walsh. The film was adapted for the screen by Walsh's daughter, Sydney Ortman.

Here's the plot, according to a press release: " 'The Purple Rose' is a shadowy story of a beautiful young woman, Kate, who after narrowly escaping the clutches of a deadly stalker flees to a remote anonymous town where she rebuilds her life and finds the man of her dreams – until the man of her nightmares tracks her down."

According to novelist Walsh, both her novel and the movie were "inspired by the strong and independent spirit of my two daughters. Kate’s character is a vulnerable, yet tenacious woman who is determined to create the best possible life for herself.”

The movie's cast includes Janel Parrish, Rob Estes, Jonah Platt, Michael Welch and Tom Kiesche.

"The Purple Rose" will show in a limited run. So if you're interested in seeing it, check it out sooner than later.

Below: A 2017 KXLY news report on the movie.

Friday’s openings: Crime and punishment

Crime of one sort or another is on the menu for Friday, according to the national movie-release schedule. The preliminary bookings look like this:

"Ocean's 8": Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett lead a crew of jewel thieves in this variation on the original "Ocean's Eleven" heist flick. What's good for the gander …  

"Hereditary": A death in the family causes a creepy kind of reminiscence. Limited release but certainly a possibility.

"Hotel Artemis": Jodie Foster stars as the proprietor of an establishment catering to criminals. When they check out, they really check out.

And at the Magic Lantern:

"1945": It's a hot day in August when two men, dressed in black, arrive in town on the train. Fear spreads when the the villagers realize the men, Orthodox Jews, might be the first of their kind returning from the previously forced deportations. In Hungarian and Russian with English subtitles.

That's it for the moment. I'll update when the area theater finalize their listings.