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

Friday’s openings: Fast cars and lost soldiers

Movie openings are slim this weekend, unless you're a fan of big-budget, car-crashing, Vin Diesel-type male posturing. Because if that's the case, then the week's solo mainstream release is for you.

Friday's openings are as follows:

"Furious 7": The latest, and presumably last, edition in a series that began rather promisingly in 2001's "The Fast and the Furious." I say "presumably" because one of the series' original stars, Paul Walker, was killed in a car accident. And digital effects can do wonders, but completely replacing a human actor isn't yet possible. Not in any believable manner, anyway.

And at the Magic Lantern:

"'71": Jack O'Connell stars as a British soldier mistakenly abandoned on the streets of Belfast during a riot. Question is, can the kid remain, ummmm, "Unbroken"?

Time to go see a movie. And to enjoy it.

Check out ‘The Sound of Music’ on April 19, 22

It's coming more than a month late, but Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events will be presenting a 50th-anniversary special in-theater screening of "The Sound of Music" on April 19 and 22. According to the website, the two Spokane-area venues will be Regal's Northtown and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium theaters.

It was on March 2, 1965, that Robert Wise's production of the Broadway show-turned movie "The Sound of Music" premiered in New York. That opening was followed, quickly enough, by a March 10 screening in Los Angeles. The movie then moved to theaters across the country and gradually became the year's highest-grossing film.

I was one of those who saw the film at a special screening held in downtown Norfolk, Va. I was a freshman at Old Dominion College (now University), and I attended with my then-girlfriend, Terry. I had to buy special reserved-seat tickets, and I remember the whole event was treated like a night at the opera. People were dressed up, the line in front of the theater ran down the block and even at age 18 I felt all grown up.

Which is probably why, even given the film's saccharine qualities and looseness with the facts, I retain a sense of goodwill toward the whole thing. Julie Andrews was perfectly cast as Maria, Christopher Plummer did his best to bring a sense of gravity to his role as Georg, and the songs … well, unlike other musicals ("Camelor" comes to mind), the show's songs — by the songwriting team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II — are virtually all hummable to a fault.

Then again, I was in love, the story was about young love and … well, love will cause you to forgive a lot of faults. Go and see for yourself.

On the big screen.

Deadline extended for Silverwood Old No. 7 Coloring Contest

It's your lucky day if you forgot to send us a submission for Silverwood’s Old No. 7 Coloring Contest!

We're extending the deadline to Friday, Apr. 3, at 5 p.m. So that gives kids ages 12 and younger ONE WEEK to send us a drawing of their favorite memory—real or imaginary—aboard the Old No. 7, which celebrates its 100th birthday this year.

You can submit entries online, drop them off in person at the Review Tower main office lobby located (999 W. Riverside Ave., Spokane, WA 99201) or email them to contests@spokesman.com. See Contest Rules for complete details.

Image by William Everhart

‘Red Army’ tells the other side of history

My fascination with the former Soviet Union was amped up after seeing the documentary "Red Army," which tells the story of the USSR's legendary ice-hockey team. My review of the film, which I write for Spokane Public Radio, was broadcast this morning. A transcription follows:

For those of us raised in the decades immediately following World War II, that coalition of nations known as the Soviet Union served as an enduring boogeyman of international politics.

To us, the USSR was tanks and soldiers marching every Mayday in Moscow’s Red Square – the same kinds of tanks and soldiers that marched into Budapest during the 1956 Hungarian invasion. It was Nikita Khrushchev famously – though perhaps apocryphally – pounding his shoe at the United Nations. And it was, every four years during both the summer and winter Olympics, the epitome of sport.

During the winter, that meant – in the main – ice hockey. And when it came to hockey, the team fielded by the Red Army may have been the best the world has ever seen – a fact that Gabe Polsky’s documentary “Red Army” makes with both style and sensitivity.

Which is only fitting. Style was the hallmark of the Red Army hockey team. These were soldiers, shepherded into the military so that they could be trained, supported – and, let’s not forget, guarded – as part of the Soviet government’s drive to symbolize the superiority of the communist system. Choosing the best candidates from thousands of boys eager to play for their country, Red Army coach Anatoli Tarasov used a blend of unique training methods, adopted both from the Bolshoi Ballet and the USSR’s long tradition of chess mastery, to shape players into men who would become magicians with pads and pucks.

To those who would argue that these Soviet men held an unfair advantage over amateur U.S. hockey players, well, just remember the “miracle” win those U.S. players managed to pull off during the 1980 Winter Olympics. Remember also that from 1976 to 1991, when paired against teams from the National Hockey League, Soviet teams won 14 of 16 match-play series. Even NHL pros couldn’t stand up to the graceful Soviets.

The sensitivity of Polsky’s film comes, perhaps ironically, from the man on whom the director focuses most closely: Slava Fetisov, the heart of the Red Army team. Bearing a manner that ranges from brusque to droll, and unafraid to speak the truth as he sees it, Fetisov is the perfect person to narrate the Soviet story. It is through him that we learn about the Soviet team’s rise under Tarasov, the hell that Tarasov’s successor – the disciplinarian Viktor Tikhonov – put the players through, the pride that the athletes felt at representing their country – pride that would force them to skate until their feet bled – and the sadness they felt when, like the USSR itself, it all fell apart.

Fetisov and a number of his Red Army teammates would go on to play in the NHL – and he, in fact, would play a part in two Detroit Red Wing Stanley Cup-winning seasons. But the Soviet team, after winning gold in 1988, has won only two medals since – neither of them gold.

Polsky makes it hard not to see this as something sad. That, of course, is the magic of what he’s accomplished – making us feel sorry for the boogeyman.

‘It Follows’ plods patiently, chillingly toward horror

I've written about the confusion over the release of the horror film "It Follows" in Spokane. Jonathan Abramson, manager of the Magic Lantern, thought he had a good chance of opening the movie first-run. But the distributor, energized by the film's showing during its premiere weekend, decided to give it a wider release.

And so the movie will open Friday at a number of area mainstream theaters. (Click here for more info.)

What I haven't written about is the film itself. Because I was able to score a screening of "It Follows," I will do so now.

First, the plot: The film, written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, follows Jay, a high-school girl living in a creepily run-down section of suburban Detroit. After having sex with her new boyfriend, Jay finds herself being stalked by a mysterious, horrific force. Sometimes that force takes the shape of an old woman, sometimes a naked man. But whatever form it takes, the force pursues her with a plodding, zombie-like intent. It is up to Jay and her small group of friends to find a way around this deadly threat.

It's not as if Mitchell has come up with a particularly original plot. Sex has always been a part of the horror genre, whether we're talking about Dracula courting Mina Harker or Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees dismembering scantily clad teens. And to be honest, some of the plot twists he employs feel just a wee bit nonsensical.

What Mitchell does do, though, is mine the talents of cinematographer Mike Gioulakis, whose spinning camera captures both the cool colors of a timelessly weathered Detroit and the languor of the teen inhabitants' seemingly empty lives (adults are mostly absent, except as occasional carriers of the deadly force pursuing Jay). None of the actors is a name star (newcomer Maika Monroe plays Jay), but that serves to give them an even greater sense of authenticity than any star might have achieved.

It was way back in 1996 that Wes Craven deconstructed the horror genre with the first of his four “Scream” films. In that film, Jamie Kennedy's character Randy set up the rules that, he said, "one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie."

Those rules are:

1. You can never have sex. 

2. You can never drink or do drugs. 

3. Never, ever, ever under any circumstances say, "I'll be right back." Because you won't be back.

Since the "Scream" series, filmmakers have been working hard to find new ways to explore horror. Some have been effective: "The Blair Witch Project" and "Paranormal Activity." Some have been knowingly clever: "The Cabin in the Woods." Some have drowned their story lines in gore: the "Hostel" and "Saw" series. Most have depended on gimmicks. 

Mitchell depends mostly on the tried and true, mainly patient pacing, good (if inexpensive) production qualities and a judicious use of violence. The result may not be the scariest movie ever made, but then horror is like comedy: Just as people have personal reactions to fart jokes, so they tend to have unique reactions to things that jump out of the darkness.

This much is clear, though: "It Follows" might be the best-made scary movie of 2015.

Check out cover for Harper Lee’s new novel

The cover art (above) for “Go Set a Watchman,” the recently uncovered sequel to Harper Lee’s iconic “To Kill a Mockingbird” was released today by HarperCollins.

Lee originally wrote the novel in the 1950s about a young woman, Scout Finch, who travels from New York back to her childhood home in Maycomb, Alabama, to visit her father, Atticus. Her editor was more interested in the novel’s flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, which Lee turned into “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The manuscript for “Go Set a Watchman” was long thought to be lost until recently discovered by Lee’s lawyer.

Original "To Kill a Mockingbird" cover art

The cover, designed by Jarrod Taylor in the Harper Art Department at HarperCollins, features an approaching train—Scout’s mode of transport from New York to Maycomb—and a sparsely leafed tree on a blue background. Although set in an entirely different color scheme, the cover is beautifully reminiscent of the cover art for the first printing of “To Kill a Mockingbird” in 1960.

The excitement over the sequel’s discovery and publishing has been tempered with accusations of elder abuse and manipulation of Lee, 88, a notoriously reclusive figure whose Pulitzer Prize-winning story remained her only published book for over 50 years. Investigations into the accusations are being explored by the state of Alabama, according to the New York Times.

The book will be available July 14 and is currently available for pre-order through Auntie’s Bookstore, as well as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

KSPS spices up movie-going on Saturday nights

Above: Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci star in "Julie and Julia."

One of the joys of movie-watching comes from seeing classic films. It's always better when those opportunities occur in a theater, as when "Movies 101" hosted a screening of "A Hard Day's Night" at the Bing Crosby Theater last August.

But some of us take those opportunities wherever they're available. Ever since the early 1980s, when movies started being made available for home viewing — first on VHS, then laser disc and, finally, DVD — more and more of us have seen classic film in the comfort of our own homes. And now that streaming is available, either through cable or satellite TV companies or through services such as Netflix or Hulu, watching movies at home has become ever easier.

My wife and I recently binge-watched the Netflix series "House of Cards," and we just finished the HBO six-episode series "The Jinx."

But back to classic film. Since 1985, one way many Spokane-area movie fans have watched the movie greats of past years has been through Spokane Public Television's "Saturday Night Cinema." First hosted by former station manager Bill Stanley, the program now boasts three presenters: Jackie Brown, Shaun Higgins and Ryan Tucker. (Full disclosure: Higgins for many years was one of my bosses at The Spokesman-Review.)

The trio not only presents a variety of films — recent showings include musicals such as "An American in Paris" and "The Music Man" along with such film-noir selections as "The Big Sleep" and "The Maltese Falcon" — but they offer critical assessments of the respective night's showing. Upcoming shows include Brown opining Friday on the 2009 film "Julie and Julia," Higgins and Tucker tackling two religious flicks, respectively 1961's "Barabbas" (April 4) and 1947's "Black Narcissus" (April 11).

"Saturday Night Cinema" airs on KSPS channel 7 at 8 p.m. For information about online viewing, click here.

Craig Campbell tickets available March 25

Georgia-raised country singer Craig Campbell will be headlining the opening-night arena concert at the North Idaho Fair and Rodeo on Wednesday, Aug. 26.

Tickets sales begin on Mar. 25 at 10 a.m., and can be purchased for $16 at NorthIdahoFair.com or at the administrative office. The concert begins at 7 p.m. and will conclude with a fireworks show.

Campbell broke through the country music scene with the release of his self-titled debut album (2011), which delivered the hits “Family Man,” "Fish” and “When I Get It.” Most recently, Campbell earned his first top 10 smash with the “Keep Them Kisses Comin” from his sophomore album "Never Regret."

“We’re excited for the opportunity to have Craig Campbell perform at this year’s annual North Idaho Fair,” said Ty Thomas, marketing manager for the Kootenai County Fairgrounds. “Campbell’s passion for music is inspiring, and his ability to interact with the crowd will create memories for all to enjoy.”

For more information, visit www.northidahofair.com or call (208) 765-4969.

Last chance to enter the Silverwood Engine No. 7 Coloring Contest

Above: Drawing by Paige Wilton

What a great submission for our Silverwood’s Engine No. 7 Coloring Contest! If you have a favorite memory from a trip on the Old No. 7, we want to see it!

There’s still time to enter! Submission must be received by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 25, and can be can be dropped off at the Review Tower main office lobby located at 999 W. Riverside Ave., Spokane, WA 99201 or emailed to contests@spokesman.com.

Friday’s openings: Try this new movie drinking game

If you still haven't seen "Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)," you still have four days to catch it on a big screen. After a 20-week Spokane run, it's one of the films that is leaving Friday to make way for the week's openings. Last chance to see the Oscar winner the way it was intended.

As for those openings, they are as follows:

"Get Hard": Will Ferrell plays a convicted felon, sentenced to do hard time, who hires a black guy (Kevin Hart) to help him figure out how to weather the hell of prison. Hey, new drinking game! Down a shot whenever a racial/homophobic joke is uttered.

"Home" (3D and regular): This DreamWorks animated feature follows a familiar formula — an alien partners with a human to make a formidable team. So phone home, already.

And tentatively, "It Follows": Sex proves problematic to a young woman when an unknown force begins to, uh, follow her. And, no, the alien's name is not Trojan.

Horror news: ‘It Follows’ goes for a wider release

Jonathan Abramson, manager of the Magic Lantern Theater, has been talking for the last couple of weeks about a horror movie title "It Follows" that he hoped to open this Friday. He sent out word this morning that "It Follows" was NOT going to open at his theater.

He gave no reason. But it comes as no surprise. Consider this.

This is hardly the first time a movie's distributor has had second thoughts about opening its product at an art theater instead of a more mainstream location. Not that we've yet received notice that "It Follows" is going to open locally anywhere else. Word on that possibility is likely to come down later today. Or on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, my "Movies 101" partner Nathan Weinbender has seen the film and is high on its scare quotient. Especially, he says, during the first half.

Here, by the way, are some of the other critical reactions:

Michael O'Sullivan, Washington Post: " 'It Follows' is one of the scariest movies I've ever seen. It's also one of the most beautiful."

Hazel Sills, Grantland: "Written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, 'It Follows' is the latest in a long line of sex-as-horror flicks that somehow grounds its terror both in reality and in the otherworldly, making this a smart and thought-provoking movie."

David Edelstein, New York Magazine: "My whole life I've been a horror-movie freak, and I've rarely been as scared as I was at 'It Follows.' But it wasn't a fun kind of scare. It was the so-upset-I-feel-sick kind of amorphous dread."

Whoa on that last one. Too bad for the Lantern. But let's hope "It Follows" opens somewhere in Spokane.

Who doesn't like to sit scared in a dark theater? If only it were in the Lantern.

(un)Bored Kids: Spring into action

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

Con d’Alene
Learn new games or play your favorites! Second annual game convention at the American Legion Steven H. Nipp Post 143 in Post Falls with Strategy & Games to benefit veterans. [Weekend: $40/advance, $45/door; one day: $20/advance, $25/door; $5 discount for military and children age 12 and younger]
Event: Today, 1 p.m.-midnight; Saturday, 9 a.m.-midnight; Sunday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Spring Equinox Celebration Open House
Take a Space Adventure at the Outdoor Learning Center with a variety of activities, including star gazing, a scavenger hunt and more. [$5 suggested donation per person]
Event: Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Super Saturday at the Mac
Celebrate Women’s History with special activities at the Northwest MAC. Play with clay with ceramic artist Liz Bishop, enjoy music featuring the work of famous women musicians like Linda Allen and much more. [$10/adults, $7.50/seniors, $5/students, free/Museum members]
Event: Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Disney’s Choo Choo Soul
All aboard for a musical experience at Bing Crosby Theater with hip-hop Conductor Genevieve Goings and beat boxing Engineer Constantine “DC” Abramson. [$15/children, $30-40/adults]
Event: Saturday, 1:30 and 4:30 p.m.

Celebrate the Chinese New Year
Learn about Chinese culture with dance, candy and fun with the Spokane Chinese Association at the Shadle Library. [Free]
Event: Saturday, 3 p.m.

Spokannibals Roller Derby
First home game of the 2015 season at Roller Valley Skate Center, the Spokannibals battle Storm City Roller Girls’ Misfits of Mutiny. [In advance: $8/adults, $6/students/seniors; at the door: $10/adults, $8/students/seniors, $5/military with ID]
Event: Saturday, 7 p.m.

Spokane Chiefs Hockey
Last game of the season, the Chiefs play the Everett Silvertips at the Spokane Arena. Individual player awards will be presented. [$10-$22 with discounts for kids/students/seniors/military]
Event: Sunday, 5:05 p.m.

Easter Bunny
Get a photo with the Easter Bunny at River Park Square. [photo prices vary]
Event: Today-Apr.4, hours vary

Want more? Visit spokane7.com/family for kid-friendly activities and events in our area.

‘Ballet 422’: an insider’s view of dance

If you're into dance, or even if you're not, you might be interested in a documentary film that opens today at the Magic Lantern. I reviewed that film, "Ballet 422," for Spokane Public Radio. Following is a transcription of my review:

Everyone appreciates art in one form or another. This is true whether we’re talking about the intricate stroke-work of an Andrew Wyeth painting, the clever wordplay of a Bob Dylan ballad, the electric feel of Maria Callas singing “Tosca” or the grace of Robinson Cano swinging at a fastball.

What most of us don’t appreciate, though, is the work that goes into the creation of such art – the hours spent both in thought and effort preparing for the actual execution of the work in question.

Take dance as an example. In his prime, Mikhail Baryshnikov seemed to defy gravity as he propelled himself off the stage and appeared to literally hang in the air. And yet for every moment in performance, Baryshnikov spent hours, weeks, years practicing his jumps.

“Ballet 422,” a documentary film that opens today at the Magic Lantern, offers us the opportunity to witness such process. Filmed over a two-month period in 2013, the film documents the creation of a Justin Peck ballet for the New York City Ballet.

Dubbed a “wonder boy” by some critics, Peck – a member of the City Ballet’s chorus of dancers – had shown early promise as a ballet innovator. So much so, in fact, he had been invited to attend the group’s Choreographic Institute. That invite led to a two-year residency and, in the summer of 2014, Peck’s being named, at the tender age of 26, the company’s resident choreographer.

Directed by Jody Lee Lipes, “Ballet 422” picks up as Peck prepares only his third ballet for the company. And Lipes employs an almost cinema-verité, fly-on-the-wall style to capture all – or at least much – of what transpires. We see Peck trying out moves in the studio, capturing the images on a smartphone. We see him working with the individual performers, taking them through the movements he sees in his mind’s eye and adjusting his expectations based on each dancer’s physical abilities.

And we see everything else involved in a big-time production, from the ongoing run-throughs to the costume fittings, the staging and lighting to the melding of the dance with music played by the company’s orchestra – all occurring as the hours count down inexorably to opening night.

We’ve seen such insider documentaries before. Two things, though, set “Ballet 422” apart. One is how it refuses to pander to the now-familiar conceits of reality television: Lipes gives us no talking-head reflections on what we are seeing; he focuses only on what his camera captures, whether that be of a sweaty dancer skipping rope or of Peck, sitting in the audience, allowing himself a quick smile as his work is met with applause.

The other is a curious kind of G-rated feel where – even in the cut-throat world of big-city arts – no one seems to have an ego. Where everyone – Peck in particular – seems like the nicest person imaginable, united in a desire only to create fine art.

“Ballet 422,” then, may or may not be a completely honest depiction. But this much is clear: It certainly is a refreshing one.

Jewish film festival: It begins tonight

Above: Israeli pilots featured in the documentary "Above and Beyond."

One of my favorite movie events every year is the annual Spokane Jewish Cultural Film Festival. (I'm still reeling, so to speak, from last year's entry "Bethlehem," which had one of the most shattering endings of any film I have ever seen.) Anyway, the festival has returned for an 11th year, and it begins tonight at 7:30, at the Magic Lantern Theater, with a screening of the movie "Zero Motivation."

Screenings continue on Saturday with an 8 p.m. showing of "The Green Prince" (a 6:45 festival reception will precede the movie at Boots Bakery & Lounge, which sits across the street from the theater), and then 7:30 p.m. Sunday with "Above and Beyond."

Admission is $10 ($7 for students and seniors) per show ($25 for the reception and Saturday's show). For more information, click here.

Friday’s openings II: Hockey and holiness

We've already covered the film that will be opening Friday at the Magic Lantern. But what do mainstream movie fans have to look forward to? Well, along with the usual mix of sci-fi and contemporary gunplay, we have a religious study and a documentary about the former Soviet Union's legendary hockey squad.

Friday's openings are as follows:

"Insurgent" (IMAX 3D, 3D and regular): This sequel to last year's "Divergent" stars Shailene Woodley as a teen who helps lead a rebellion against a tyrannical society. Can you spell dystopia?

"Red Army": They were the best Olympic hockey team in the world, winning three gold medals and eight world championships between 1978 and 1992, even though they did lose to a group of hungry Americans in 1980. Their story is a little more dramatic than you might think.

"The Gunman": Sean Penn stars as the title character, a former assassin who returns to the scene of one particular crime and finds himself the hunted. What, Liam Neeson wasn't available?

"Do You Believe?": A group of people learns that faith calls for action. Hey, what's Brian Bosworth doing in this movie?

So go see a movie. And, if you can, try to enjoy.

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