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

Friday’ openings: Disney meets Spielberg

Two movie traditions offer up new looks on Friday when the week's movie offerings open. Friday's scheduled openings are as follows:

"BFG": Teaming with Disney, Steven Spielberg adapts Roald Dahl's novel about a little girl who makes friend with a Big Friendly Giant. Oh, that's what those letters refer to. I always thought … never mind.

"The Legend of Tarzan": For some reason, the Tarzan stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs refuse to die. This latest effort is directed by "Harry Potter" veteran David Yates. Maybe he can instill some, er, magic into this long-lame concept.

"The Purge: Election Year": The purge is returning, and this time it's targeting a U.S. senator who wants to end it. Don't forget your barf bags.

And at the Magic Lantern:

"Raiders! The Story Behind the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made": This documentary tells the story of two kids who, so in love with "Raiders of the Lost Ark," attempt to film their own version. Geeks galore.

"Dark Horse": The story of a group of working-class English horse lovers who attempt to break into the upper-class world of horse racing. Power to the people.

I'll update as needed.

‘The Conjuring 2’: More Warren malarky

If you still haven't seen "The Conjuring 2," you might want to check out the review of the film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

In 1973, when William Friedkin’s film “The Exorcist” opened, audiences were thrilled. They were frightened. They were grossed out. And they were shocked. But in the end, they were thrilled.

Based on the best-selling novel by William Peter Blatty, “The Exorcist” used a real-life case as its basis. But Blatty changed several aspects of the incident, and as Friedkin’s screenwriter of record, he included those changes in his screenplay.

One thing that neither Blatty nor Friedkin resorted to, however, was claiming that their work was “based on actual events.” They took a riveting story – one that, Friedkin later claimed, was a study of “faith” – and made a movie that many consider one of the scariest of all time.

That was then, though. And, changing with the tenor of the times, James Wan has adjusted accordingly. Known mostly for having co-created the “Saw” series – the films that helped spawn the sub-genre of torture-porn – Wan has become a virtual publicist for the QUOTE-UNQUOTE paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren.

Based mostly on their association with the case popularly known as “The Amityville Horror,” the Warrens established a reputation. And based on that reputation, they are the stars both of Wan’s “The Conjuring” – which was released in 2013 – and now “The Conjuring 2.”

This new film is a retelling of a 1977 English case the Warrens apparently checked out. And by saying “checked out,” I’m being generous. According to the website History vs. Hollywood, the Warrens were just two of many investigators who visited a house in the North London suburb of Enfield allegedly haunted by a poltergeist. In fact, the site says, “most articles about the Enfield Poltergeist don’t even mention the Warrens.”

Never one to let facts get in the way of a movie plot, director Wan and his team of screenwriters put the Warrens – again played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga – at the center of the story. Called by the Catholic Church to investigate – the Warrens and Church officials seem to be on first-name bases – Ed and Lorraine travel to London, camp out in the Enfield home of Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) and her four children. They’re particularly interested in Hodgson’s 11-year-old daughter Janet (played alluringly by Madison Wolfe).

What they find would creep out Bram Stoker. Mysterious noises. Slamming doors. Strange entities. Crosses that turn upside down on their own volition. A levitating Janet. And so on.

And while the movie, through the Warrens, seems to address the understandable skepticism that the real-life Enfield case aroused, it does so in a way designed to act as the straw-man argument the movie then rebuts with spectacular computer-generated bombast.

But as has been proven time and again with computer-generated imagery, camera tricks aren’t a good substitute for actual dramatic flair. After the first half hour, “The Conjuring 2” devolves into a paint-by-number CGI exercise.

In 1973, some frightened audience members actually walked out of “The Exorcist.” James Wan’s lame effort, these four decades later, is more likely to make you walk out yawning – unless, of course, you’re in the market for poppycock.

Enjoy musical theatre in Spokane Valley this summer

To celebrate their inaugural season, our new friends at Spokane Valley Summer Theatre gave us a number of ticket vouchers for their upcoming shows. In the next few months, we’re giving them away in Enter to Win contests, as well as #FreeTicketTime giveaways on Facebook.

First up is “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” starring Brian Dalen Gunn, which will be performed July 7-10 and July 13-17 at CVHS Performing Arts Center (821 S. Sullivan Rd.).

Enter to win two “Buddy” ticket vouchers at spokane7.com/contest before Monday, July 27, when we will randomly draw three winners. See Rules for details.

Telling the story of Buddy’s incredible rise to fame, from the moment in 1957 when “That’ll Be The Day” hit the airwaves until his tragic death less than two years later on “The day the music died,” the show features over 20 of Buddy Holly’s greatest hits including “That’ll Be The Day,” “Peggy Sue,” “Everyday,” “Oh Boy,” “Rave On” and “Raining In My Heart.” Richie Valens’ “La Bamba” and the Big Bopper’s “Chantilly Lace” are also featured in the production. 

Audiences can also look forward to seeing “Oliver!” and “Bring It On: The Musical” on stage at SVST this summer. Stay tuned for voucher giveaways to these shows!

Another Friday opening: Model horror

Note: This post has been updated to reflect the news that the Magic Lantern is opening no new movies on Friday. On July 1, the Lantern will open "Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made" and "Dark Horse," plus pick up second runs of "Maggie's Plan" and "Love & Friendship."

Yep, there's an addition to the mainstream movie listing. It's the latest by cult director Nicholas Wind Refn. Friday's added opening is as follows:

"The Neon Demon": Danish-born Refn wrote and directed this contemporary horror film about a young fashion model in Los Angeles (Elle Fanning) who attracts the envy of all the models she encounters. Sounds like a scenario for a new reality show: "Desperate Supermodels of L.A."

FYI, just so you know what to expect, check out this snippet of a review by The Telegraph following the film's premiere at Cannes: "It’s by far the most divisive film to have screened in competition at Cannes this year: before the end credits had even begun to roll, some audience members were already on their feet, yelling abuse at the screen (It’s only fair to report there was also a phalanx of applauders, of which I was one.)"

Sounds like a Nathan Weinbender film if ever there was one.

Even more to do at Summer Parkways this year

Who could ask for better weather for 2016 Summer Parkways? The annual community event, which takes place between Manito and Comstock parks, is tonight, Tuesday, June 21, from 6 to 9 p.m., and the forecast shows mostly sunny skies and temps in the mid-70s.

Participants are able to enjoy four miles of car-free streets for running, walking, cycling or skating, as well as other family-friendly activities like fitness activities, chalk art, music and dancing, jump rope, food vendors and much more.

Spokane Summer Parkways map

And there’s something new for this year’s festivities. Pick up a “Parkways Passport” at Manito Park (Manito Place and Manito Blvd.), Jefferson Elementary (Division St. and Manito Blvd.) or Comstock Park (Post St. and 32nd Ave.). Collect stamps at booth along the route and turn in a completed Passport at the final spot to enter a raffle for the Grand Prize, a 2016 SpokeFest registration for a family of four.

There will also be a raffle giveaway of 10 Strider Bikes, courtesy of SpokeFest. Kids ages 18 months to 5 years can test out the bikes at the Strider Adventure Zone course (S. Manito Blvd. and S. Division St.) from 6 to7:15 p.m.

Don’t miss out on the sunny skies and outdoor fun! Visit Spokane Summer Parkways more information.

Friday’s openings: Sharks, aliens and history

The final movie listing of the week seldom becomes final before Wednesday. But the Hollywood schedule is usually set months in advance. So based on what IMDB is reporting, here are Friday's supposed movie openings:

"Independence Day: Resurgence": Roland Emmerich follows his 1996 alien-invasion action flick with this sequel about the aliens invading yet again. But this time Will Smith's character isn't around to help save the day. Think that will make a difference?

"The Shallows": A young medical student (Blake Lively) goes on vacation, gets stranded on a rock as a giant shark circles her perch. It's like some Hollywood producer thought, "Hey, let's make a movie about that young woman who gets eaten during the first 10 minutes of 'Jaws!' "

"Free State of Jones": Based on actual events, this historical drama tells the story of a Mississippi man (Matthew McConaughey) who broke with the South and fought Confederate forces in defense of their own mixed-race community. Why wasn't this taught in history class?

I'll update as needed.

‘The Lobster’ cooks in lukewarm water

David, the protagonist in Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos’ movie “The Lobster,” is in a bad situation. Just dumped by his wife, David – played by a pudgy Colin Farrell – is forced to take up residence in the strangest hotel imaginable.

Upon checking in, he is told that he has 45 days to find a romantic partner – gay or straight, though not bisexual – or he will be transformed into an animal. He does, of course, have some choice in the matter: He’ll be able to choose what animal he wants to become. Which is what his brother did, a fact we know because his brother is the dog that accompanies David during his hotel check-in.

For David, who seems destined for transformation, the animal he wants to become is the one that Lanthimos uses for his film’s title: a lobster. Why? Because, David explains, lobsters live for 100 years and they remain sexually active the whole time.

And that’s the world that Lanthimos throws us into, one that is as dystopian as it is dismaying. It’s a world that, in so many ways, is also incomprehensible, mainly because David’s life gets progressively more weird. During his stay at the hotel, where partners come together through the sharing of common traits – near-sightedness, for example, or the tendency to bleed spontaneously from the nose – David eventually pairs up with a woman who has no heart, no feelings of tenderness whatsoever.

So he, softie that he inherently is, has to pretend that he is heartless, too – though his pretense slips when his new mate targets his canine brother, which causes David to strike back. After he does, suddenly enough, David finds himself in a forest filled with “loners,” the revolutionaries whose life outside mainstream culture involves running around and dodging the hotel’s residents, who hunt them with drug-laced dart guns.

Ultimately, David does find love – though life among the “loners” turns out to be every bit as demented as life in the hotel, where any kind of sexual activity outside of partnerships is strictly prohibited. In the forest, self-gratification is fine, but any kind of hanky-panky between humans is forbidden. And when David’s lover is dealt with harshly, he faces a choice that seems even more appalling than being transformed into a crustacean.

Lanthimos, who both co-wrote and directed “The Lobster,” creates his grotesque world-view from the opening scene. A woman driving a car, suddenly stops, gets out, stumbles a few feet across a field, pulls out a pistol and shoots what looks like a donkey. Then as she walks away, another donkey comes over and nudges the now dead animal. No context is provided, no explanation given.

Like the best theater of the absurd – Samuel Beckett’s play “Krapp’s Last Tape,” for example – some early moments in “The Lobster” seem funny. But that feeling fades, leaving us with a sense of fatalism but without a larger sense of actual meaning.

Madman that he was, Beckett could do both. Imagine what he could do with a man who yearns to be a lobster.

Trek into the past tonight at Auntie’s

Above: Joseph Haeger, author of "Learn to Swim." Taken from hippocampus magazine.

A mix of memoir and poetry will be featured during a two-person reading event tonight at Auntie's Bookstore. Authors Joseph Haeger and Lauren Gilmore will begin reading at 7 p.m.

Haeger, a graduate of Mead High School, was the focus of a feature by Spokesman-Review columnist Cindy Hval. His book, "Learn to Swim," is a reflection of his 10-year friendship with a now-deceased friend. 

Spokane native Gilmore won the 2013 poetry Grand Slam, which earned her entry both to the National Poetry Slam and the Individual World Poetry Slam. Author of the poetry collection "Outdancing the Universe," Gilmore was featured at the 2016 Get Lit! literary festival. To read three poems by Gilmore, click here.

The event, as usual at Auntie's, is free and open to the public.

Cleese, Idle plan Spokane stop in October

Two legends of British comedy are bringing their show to the American West, and will be at Spokane's INB Performing Arts Center on Oct. 28.

John Cleese and Eric Idle, two of the six members of the groundbreaking Monty Python comedy troupe, are "Together Again At Last … For the Very First Time." The show, which toured the East Coast and Australia in recent months, includes scripted bits, improvised moments of comedy and storytelling, and funny songs, according to the duo's website

As Cleese told the Sydney Morning Herald in February, "This is very unscripted … We do do slightly strange things like trying to get reactions out of the audience which they've never seen anyone do before."

Aside from their work with Monty Python - which produced the BBC television series "Monty Python's Flying Circus," and the films "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," "Monty Python's Life of Brian" and "Monty Python' The Meaning of Life - both men have been comedy stars in their own right. Idle created the mock rock band The Rutles and turned "Holy Grail" into the Broadway smash musical "Spamalot." Cleese starred in the BBC series "Fawlty Towers," and in films such as "A Fish Called Wanda." He also played "Nearly Headless Nick" in a couple of the Harry Potter movies.

Monty Python also featured filmmaker Terry Gilliam ("Brazil"), Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Graham Chapman, who died in 1989.

Tickets cost $59.50, $79.50 and $99.50. They go on sale at 10 a.m. Monday through TicketsWest.

For more information, visit cleeseandidle.com.

And now, as they say, for something completely different.

No ‘Dark Horse’ for the Magic Lantern

And the first adjustment to the movie schedule features a deletion: "Dark Horse" will not open at the Magic Lantern on Friday. Seems Sony Pictures wants to play the movie in Seattle first. At least that's the word from the Lantern itself.

Sorry, racing fans. I'll have other news as it becomes available.

Friday’s openings redux: Disney, horses and Hart

Looks as if we have a pair of mixmaster genre offerings on Friday, each of which should offer some bit of mainstream entertainment, along with a couple of Magic Lantern openings. The week's scheduled offerings are as follows:

"Finding Dory": A sequel to 2003's "Finding Nemo," this animated film picks up when the memory-challenged blue tang Dory (voice by Ellen Degeneres) decides that she needs to find her family. She's helped by the clown fish Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence). Another Pixar-Disney offering, blending family entertainment, comedy and adventure.

"Central Intelligence": Ironic title aside, this Kevin Hart comedy teams the diminutive comic with the oversize Dwayne Johnson as mismatched partners involved in crime-fighting. Or something. The blend here is action, "comedy" (if you find Hart funny) and comic intrigue.

And at the Magic Lantern (in addition to a second-run screening of "The Lobster"):

"Dark Horse": The true story of the horse Dream Alliance, a race horse bankrolled by a group of ordinary people in hopes of striking it rich. No fair checking Google to see the plot spoilers.

I'll update as needed.

Friday’s openings: Disney and a little Hart

Looks as if we have a pair of mixmaster genre offerings on Friday, each of which should offer some bit of mainstream entertainment. The week's scheduled offerings are as follows:

"Finding Dory": A sequel to 2003's "Finding Nemo," this animated film picks up when the memory-challenged blue tang Dory (voice by Ellen Degeneres) decides that she needs to find her family. She's helped by the clown fish Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence). Another Pixar-Disney offering, blending family entertainment, comedy and adventure.

"Central Intelligence": Ironic title aside, this Kevin Hart comedy teams the diminutive comic with the oversize Dwayne Johnson as mismatched partners involved in crime-fighting. Or something. The blend here is action, "comedy" (if you find Hart funny) and comic intrigue.

I'll update as needed.

See Best of EWU Film Friday at The Bing

Every filmmaker was, at one time, a beginner. Steven Spielberg made movies in his backyard. Stanley Kubrick taught himself the rudiments of photography while still in high school. P.T. Anderson made his first movie when he was just 8.

So it behooves us all to support young filmmakers. They just might be making the films that one day fill your local metroplexes.

Your opportunity to do so comes Friday night at 7:30 p.m. when a program of short films will screen at the Bing Crosby Theater. The Best of EWU Film features a number of shorts made by students in Eastern Washington University's Film Program.

The 70-minute screening will be followed by a Q&A session and a post-event reception at the Tamarack Public House. The event is free, though a $10 donation is requested.

For more information, click here.

Two late additions: plans and lobsters

Note: Just found out that "The Lobster" (below) actually opened last week. Duh.

Late additions to the week's movie openings, both at AMC River Park Square:

"Maggie's Plan": Greta Gerwig extends her stay as America's goofy sweetheart by playing a woman who, desiring a child on her own, disrupts a couple's seemingly ideal marriage. That's the plan, anyway.

"The Lobster": This dystopian story centers on a society where people have to find romantic partners or be forced to become animals. Guess what animal Colin Farrell chooses?

I'll update even further when, and if, it's called for. (As, if you read the note above, it clearly was.)

Vestal: Making memoir into art

Over the years, Spokane has attracted quite a few good writers. Some have gone (Sherman Alexie long ago moved to Seattle), but many have stayed put, whether because of loyalty, because of work or because Spokane is their home.

Put Jess Walter among that latter category. In various other categories, you can add Bruce Holbert, Sharma Shields, the poet Tod Marshall, John Keeble, the poet Nance Van Winckel … and so on. The list grows every year.

And it includes Shawn Vestal. On the basis of a short story collection ("Godforsaken Idaho"), a Kindle memoir ("A.K.A. Charles Abbott") and a debut novel ("Daredevils"), the Spokesman-Review columnist has proven to be the real thing. And his fame has spread.

Click here to read a short memoir of the time he cleaned out the house of his just-deceased father. It was published by the British publication The Guardian. And then go out and find copies of his book, buy them (or borrow a copy from the library), and begin reading.

You're likely to be surprised that such a talent has chosen to stick around. And we're lucky he has.