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

Friday’s openings: Get Gone (Girl) or be Left Behind

From the religious to the satanic, comic to mysterious, the week's movies offer a range of experiences. Some might even be worth seeing. The week's openings are as follows:

“Left Behind”: Nicolas Cage plays a man who, when his wife and child mysteriously disappear, tries to discover what happened — and why. Based on the religious novels. Warning: Don't text while driving. 

“Annabelle”: A family gets haunted by a vintage doll possessed by … satan? Or is it … Chucky?

“Hector and the Search for Happiness”: Simon Pegg plays a psychiatrist who embarks on a round-the-world trip to see what makes people happy. Hint: It's not a PS4.

“Gone Girl”: David Fincher directed this adaptation of Gillian Flynn's novel, which tells the story of a man (Ben Affleck) who is accused of murdering his wife (Rosamund Pike). And, no, he does not play in the NFL.

“Love Is Strange”: John Lithgow and Alfred Molina play an aging couple who, when one loses his teaching job, are forced to live with family members until their finances get settled. Remember what they say about friends, family and visits that last longer than three days.

The Magic Lantern is opening nothing new, but “The Trip to Italy,” “Alive Inside,” “A Most Wanted Man” and “Magic in the Moonlight” continue.

Head to Greenbluff for some tasty baked treats

Even if it weren't clear that the autumnal equinox has passed, it would still be obvious that fall is here. You can feel it in the air. And the fall season means … time to visit Green Bluff.

My wife and I drove north on Sunday afternoon, and we stopped by High Country Orchards. We passed on the espresso, the gifts and the antiques, which remind me of your friendly Cracker Barrel. We even passed on the scones pictured above. But we did pick up some fruit, a few peaches and apples, and I just couldn't resist buying a peach pie — which we consumed with some frozen yogurt later after dinner.

So while the weather holds, we'll be heading back north. And maybe next time? I'll try one of those huckleberry scones.

Luna beignets are a small slice of New Orleans

Anyone who has ever visited New Orleans knows about the Cafe Du Monde. It's always been a tourist haunt, and the crowds can be irritating, but I remember spending a pleasant afternoon there a decade and a half ago eating beignets, drinking cafe au lait and reading the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Times have changed. The newspaper is a shadow of its former self. And I haven't been able to score a table, much less a table for one, my last two visits. But I bought my beignets to go. Yes, they will shorten my life, but I can't resist them.

Which is why when my wife, our friends Gerry and Layne and I ate brunch at Luna on Sunday, I had to — had to, I say — order their beignets as an appetizer. And, yes, our regular meals were delicious — a range of the Lucca Salad (eggs and bacon on a bed of greens), Eggs Florentine (poached eggs on English muffins with tomato and Hollandaise sauce), a butternut squash soup and a special chorizo-egg filled burrito.

But the beignets were heavenly. A bit small, about the size and shape of doughnut holes. But prepared just right, with whipped cream (not necessary), what I remember as raspberry jam (appreciated) and powdered sugar (obligatory).

Made me think I was back in New Orleans. Now if I can only find a place in Spokane that serves muffulettas like Central Grocery.

Famed Santa Fe artist comes to Spokane

Dodson's Jewelers in downtown Spokane is hosting a show opening tonight featuring noted Santa Fe, New Mexico artist Estella Loretto.

Loretto, who grew up in New Mexico's Jemez pueblo, spent some time in Spokane during the 1980s, teaching Southwestern cooking and pottery. Now, she has larger, monumental bronze sculptures on display across the country, including Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American Indian, the Heard Museum in Phoenix, the Native American Center in Niagara Falls, New York, and the State Capitol Building in Santa Fe. Her most famous sculpture, of the only Native American saint, Blessed Kateri, stands outside the Cathedral of St. Francis in Santa Fe. In addition to her large sculptures, she also paints, and makes masks and jewelry.

She is returning to Spokane for the first time in more than two decades to attend the opening reception of her show tonight at Dodson's, 516 W. Riverside Ave. The reception will run from 5 to 8 p.m., and the Loretto show will continue through October.

Interested in learning more? Visit Loretto's website here.

‘This Is Where I Leave You’ … meh

Some of the best shows on television revolve around family life. “Modern Family,” for example. And movies have tackled the same topic with originality and skill. “Ordinary People,” for example. Or my wife's favorite, “Home for the Holidays.”

Unfortunately, “This Is Where I Leave You,” which is in theaters now, doesn't quite live up to those standards, despite having a first-rate cast. Following is the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

If you were to look the term “family dysfunction” up in a dictionary, you might see a picture of the central characters from “This Is Where I Leave You.” In adapting his own novel, screenwriter Jonathan Tropper places great emphasis on the notion that this is one screwed-up family.

Being screwed-up, of course, is a relative condition. All these characters are troubled. Depressed even. Unable, or unwilling to relate as a family might.  All, then, are definitely unhappy. But only in what we call a first-world fashion.

Yes, middle son Judd (played by Jason Bateman), is having a particularly hard time. We’ve barely opened our Milk Duds before Judd discovers, one, that his wife is having an affair with his boss and, two, that his father has died. But guess what? His siblings are all facing some sort of crisis, too. Sister Wendy (Tina Fey) is married to a jerk and still pines for her former lover. Brother Paul (Corey Stoll) is desperately – even grimly, but vainly – trying to impregnate his wife. Baby brother Philip (Adam Driver) may be the happiest of the bunch: manifesting his Peter Pan syndrome by carrying on an affair with a woman a good 15 years his elder.

One thing is clear: Each sibling feels no need to connect with any other family member. Which is why, following dad’s death, Mom Altman (Jane Fonda) calls them all home and expects them to sit Shiva – the traditional Jewish manner of grieving – for seven long days. Her intent is clear: Forced intimacy.

Of course, as Tropper’s screenplay makes clear – as clear as director Shawn Levy can make it make anything – Mom idea of intimacy is part of the problem. She wrote a best-selling book on child-rearing, a tell-all tome centered on her own family, that made her kids – to their ever-lasting shame – mini-celebrities. Not only does she seem to not realize the effect this has had on her family, Mom gushes to anyone willing to listen the juicy details of the great sex she had with her dead hubby – all while displaying the ample charms of her augmented breasts. Fonda, a two-time Oscar winner, eats her dialogue as if they were bites of kugel.

And Fonda is hardly the movie’s only skilled actor. Bateman has become one of the most reliable straight men in TV or movies. Fey’s “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock” credentials make clear her comic appeal. And so with the others: Stoll (who played Ernest Hemingway in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris”), Driver (best known for the HBO show “Girls”) and various others, from Kathryn Hahn to Rose Byrne, Dax Shepard to Timothy Olyphant.

No, the problem with “This Is Where I Leave You” isn’t due to the cast. Nor does director Levy do much that is noticeably wrong. The movie just plays off-key from the start, with sitcom situations subbing for real emotional entanglements and subsequent resolutions feeling about as deep as – speaking of the First World – a 20-second ad for Geico car insurance.

Trivia geeks to take the stage

Trivia geeks unite.

Next Thursday, Spokane’s “best and the brightest” – and I use that term very loosely – will converge at the Bing Crosby Theater to reveal just how much useless knowledge is rattling around the old noggin.

That’s right. It’s the first Spokane Trivia Championship, to benefit STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs at the Spokane Public Library.

The event, sponsored by the Spokane Public Library Foundation, will feature teams showing off their cultural, historical and geographical knowledge. The teams represent such august organizations as Witherspoon Kelley attorneys at law, Avista, the Inlander, Lewis & Clark High School and The Spokesman-Review.

Yes, The Spokesman-Review. Yours truly is on the team, having beaten Shawn Vestal in extra innings of the newsroom tryouts for the privilege. Taking the stage with me are copy editor Michael McGarr and The Slice’s Paul Turner. And I’m warning you, we all know a lot of useless stuff.

The fun begins at 7 p.m. at the Bing, 901 W. Sprague Ave. Tickets are $12, available through TicketsWest. Children 12 and younger can enjoy this family-friendly event free of charge.

Mark Robbins, the guy from those Northern Quest commercials, is the emcee. For more information, visit the library foundation website.

Butterworth to inaugurate 2014-15 GU literary series

For the past several years, fans of literary readings have enjoyed an ongoing, annual event sponsored by Gonzaga University. The GU Visiting Writers series, which is free and open to the public, has brought such authors as Denis Johnson, Bharati Mukherjee and Jane Hirshfield.

The 2014-15 version of the series kicks off at 7:30 tonight at GU's Cataldo Hall with a reading by GU faculty member Dan Butterworth. Butterworth's latest collection of poetry is titled “The Clouds of Lucca.”

The rest of the series schedule: Oct. 21, poet Brenda Hillman; Nov. 20, writer Joanna Luloff; Feb. 18, writer Marilynne Robinson; March 25, poet Douglas Kearney; April 15, writer Michael Gurian.

For further information, click here.

Tuck & Patti rescheduled

The Tuck & Patti concert originally set for Oct. 17 at the Salvation Army Kroc Center in Coeur d'Alene has been rescheduled for May 30.

Those who hold tickets for the Oct. 17 concert are invited to exchange their tickets prior to Sept. 29, which is when tickets for the May 30 concert will go on sale to the public. Refunds for the Oct. 17 show also are available.

To trade in existing tickets, to seek a refund, or for more information, call the Kroc theater manager,  Zak Adams, at (208) 763-0606.

Friday’s openings: Trolls, comedy and bad Denzel

Another coming Friday and another lineup of movie offerings. And imagine that, we actually have a few choices to work with. The week's openings are as follows:

“The Equalizer” (also IMAX): Denzel Washington stars in Antoine Fuqua's update of the 1980s-era television show about a vigilante loner who seeks justice for the powerless. Question: When did Denzel Washington transform into Wesley Snipes?

“The Skeleton Twins”: Former “Saturday Night Live” cast members Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader star as estranged twins who try to mend their relationship. Is it just me, or has Wiig been making some fairly great career choices?

“My Old Lady”: An American (Kevin Kline) takes possession of a Parisian apartment — and its unexpected inhabitant (Maggie Smith), who foils his plan of making a quick score.

“The Song”: An aspiring singer-songwriter finds success ain't what he thought it was. Here's a line from one critic's review: “There are many hurdles to overcome here, including headlines, gossip and someone who has lost his way and must find it with religion.”

“The Boxtrolls” (3D/2D): Based on the children's novel “Here Be Monsters,” this animated feature explores the underground world of creatures who come out at night. Between the creatures and their human foes, two guesses as to who the real monsters are.

And at the Magic Lantern:

“Tale Me to the River”: When a few recording stars from Memphis team up to record a new album, the whole of American music is examined. Terence Howard narrates the documentary,

“A Most Wanted Man”: Don't miss the second-run showing of this adaptation of John Le Carre's novel, featuring the last great performance by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.

And don't forget to enjoy.

Take ‘The Trip to Italy’ this weekend

I've spent a bit of time in Italy. From Trentino-Alto Adige in the north to Sicily in the south, from Sardegna to the west to Le Marche to the east, I've driven the main autostradas and back roads to big cities and mountain villages alike. So two of the last several movies I have seen struck me as something special. The first was “Five Star Life,” which I reviewed last week.”

This week the movie is “The Trip to Italy,” Michael Winterbottom's sequel to his 2010 movie “The Trip,” which stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon engaged in a kind of comic competition as they drive through Italy. The film opens today at the Magic Lantern, and following is the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Travel documentaries can be deadly dull. My version of hell would be any hour spent listening to some talking head warble on about the joys of visiting Oslo, Norway, lutefisk eateries. Give me Anthony Bourdain, and his knowledge of good food and drink accompanied by those trademark cynical asides.

This shows you why I am such a fan of Michael Winterbottom, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Winterbottom, if you don’t know, is an English director of such films as “24 Hour Party People” and “The Killer Inside Me.” Coogan is an English movie and television performer, known for his “Alan Partridge” character and films such as “Night at the Museum” and “Philomena.” The Welsh-born writer and actor Brydon is less familiar this side of the Atlantic, though he did appear in Guy Ritchie’s “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.”

What’s important is that in 2010, the trio – with Winterbottom directing, Coogan and Brydon mostly improvising – released a mockumentary titled “The Trip” (which evolved from a BBC series). The film boasts a simple set-up: Coogan and Brydon play fictional versions of themselves, touring England’s finest dining establishments so that Coogan can write a story for the newspaper The Observer.

At the last moment, Coogan’s girlfriend had backed out, leading him to invite Brydon – with whom he shares a nettlesome friendship based, largely it seems, on their continuing comedy one-up-manship (revolving around, among other things,  their respective abilities to impersonate Michael Caine). What the film becomes, then, is a study of the two characters, engaged in an mostly friendly road-trip competition, with fictional – we assume – details slowly being revealed as the English countryside whizzes by and, gradually, a series of gourmet meals are shown prepared and devoured.

Sounds boring, right? Far from it. Coogan and Brydon are brilliant performers. And Winterbottom is so skilled at keeping their talents at the center of his film, all while surrounding them with natural and gastronomic beauty, that it’s hard to appreciate that beauty when the movie offers up so many ongoing invitations to laugh.

“The Trip to Italy,” which opens this week at the Magic Lantern, is a perfect sequel. This time it is Brydon who has been approached by The Observer, and he calls Coogan – living in Los Angeles and on hiatus from his U.S. television series – and invites him to come along. In the first film, an arrogant, restless Coogan was the more dominant of the two. Here, though, their roles slowly reverse. It becomes clear that Brydon, and not Coogan, had ended up writing the Observer stories. And it is the very-married Brydon who finds himself tempted into bad behavior. A subdued Coogan, meanwhile, attempts to bond with his estranged teenage son while fighting with Brydon over his musical tastes: Alanis Morrisette, anyone? And the impersonation competition now involves Al Pacino.

The result is a deeper, richer comedy, still filled with laughs but underscored by a sense of real life. And this time the background is la bella Italia. Really, now. What’s not to like?

Machine Head cancels tour

The Bay Area-based metal band Machine Head has postponed its upcoming North American tour – which included an Oct. 2 stop at the Knitting Factory in Spokane. The postponement is caused by a delay in finishing the band’s latest album, “Bloodstone & Diamonds.” “…We had to make the difficult choice to either delay the album, let it go out as incomplete, or cancel the tour in order to properly finish and promote the album…,” the band said in a statement.

They hope to reschedule the tour in early 2015.

Tickets purchased through Ticketweb will be automatically refunded. Others can be refunded at the point of purchase.

Indian Canyon serves up a mean burger

My former Spokesman-Review colleague Pia Hallenberg, a native of Denmark, just became an American citizen. On her Facebook page, she posted a photo of her celebration meal — a big, juicy cheeseburger with a criss-cross of bacon slices and a side of fries. As she noted, “First truly American meal.” To which I replied, “Good old American heart disease to follow.”

Not one to let a challenge go lightly, I hereby post a photo of what I ate for lunch today: a Caynon Burger, which the SR's former food editor Lorie Hutson described in a 2010 story as “a 1/3-pound patty topped with ham, cheddar and all the fixings for $6.75.” That price has risen in those four years to a flat $8. But it does include fries (the drink was extra).

After a tiring 18 holes, it was just the right bit of nourishment — and worth, as I'm sure Pia would agree, every bit the potential harm to my heart.

Easy these days to pair dinner and a movie

Unlike the old days — and by old days I mean anything before the year 2000 — combining dinner and a movie was a bit of a hassle. These days, though, it couldn't be easier. And that's true whether you choose to see movies on the north side, downtown, in the Spokane Valley or Coeur d'Alene.

Take yesterday. My wife, my brother and I went to see “The Drop” at AMC's River Park Square 20-plex. Seeing James Gandolfini in his final big-screen performance, performing in a cast with the likes of Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and Matthias Schoenaerts, was a rich experience. You can hear my take on the film by tuning into “Movies 101” this Friday on Spokane Public Radio.

Afterward, we had our choice of downtown eateries. But we opted to eat in the mall. At Rock City Grill, in fact.

I ordered the pasta linguine with butter and myzithra cheese. My wife had the baked pesto salmon, while my brother chose chicken al forno. And everything was … well, edible. My brother's chicken was overcooked, and my pasta was passable, while my wife's salmon was, as the Italians would say, delizioso. So you could say our dining experience was mixed.

That's to be expected, though. Seeing movies is just as chancy as dining out. Just as not every movie can be “The Godfather,” not every pasta dish can be worthy of Wolfgang Puck.

Porchfest filled West Central with music

Above: Photo by Dan Pelle of The Spokesman-Review

If you heard music coming from the West Central neighborhood on Saturday, it likely was because of Porchfest. In addition to Spokesman-Review photographer Jesse Tinsley, who was a performer, the SR's presence included photographer Dan Pelle and staff writer Nina Culver. Culver's story can be accessed by clicking here.

In the world of ‘Frank,’ quirky is as quirky does

When I read album reviews on sites like Pitchfork or NME, I often find myself getting frustrated (and I meant often) when the critic reviews an artist’s persona instead of the talent exhibited on his or her recorded output. (An example I just made up: “This music is unlistenable and pretentious, but they recorded the album in a little girl’s treehouse, and that’s pretty cool. BEST NEW MUSIC.”) Perhaps that’s why I enjoyed the new dark comedy “Frank,” which concerns a (somewhat terrible) band with an off-putting name (don’t even bother pronouncing the Soronprfbs) that becomes a viral hit due to the eccentricities of its frontman. If you missed the film while it was playing at the Magic Lantern, it’s now available on demand and as a digital rental through iTunes, and I think it’s worth a watch. A transcript of my review, which was broadcast on Spokane Public Radio last weekend, is below:

In 1983, a handsome blonde man from Alberta, Canada, walked into an L.A. recording studio looking to lay down some tracks. He simply called himself Lewis, and he came armed with a handful of aching, melancholy songs that sounded like fuzzy transmissions from another planet. His recordings were compiled on an album titled “L’Amour,” and as soon as it was released, Lewis seemingly vanished. After the album was discovered at a Canadian flea market in 2008, it became a minor internet sensation, and an exhaustive search for this strange crooner, whose lilting vocals are faraway and often mumbled, arrived at one dead end after another.

It was a terrific story, one that music journalists rightly salivated over. Who was this man, where did he cultivate his unusual style and, assuming he was still alive, did he know people were looking for him? A second Lewis album was uncovered shortly after “L’Amour” was reissued on CD, and the man himself was tracked down just last month – his real name is Randall Wulff, and he’s living quietly in Canada with no interest in the royalties his music has accrued. It ended up being an anticlimactic finish to a tantalizing mystery, and yet it still lends Lewis’ songs an eerie, unshakable aura.

I bring this up because I thought about Lewis all the way through the new Irish comedy “Frank,” which gets its name from a mysterious musician who always wears a bulbous papier-mâché head with a painted-on expression that could be perceived (depending on how you look at it) as welcoming, inquisitive or perpetually surprised. Frank is the eccentric frontman of an unknown experimental rock band with a deliberately unpronounceable name, and his style exists somewhere between Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart. None of his bandmates have seen the face beneath the mask. They know nothing of his background. His fake head has become an appendage they regard as fact rather than affectation.

The very notion of a guy living inside a papier-mâché cocoon seems dubious, but Frank turns out to be inspired by a cult musician named Frank Sidebottom, a satirical creation of the late British comedian Chris Sievey. Michael Fassbender plays the film’s version of Frank – or at least we assume it’s Michael Fassbender under that head – and he’s magnetic, unsettling and yet strangely soothing, and we eventually come to accept the sight of his goofy, googly-eyed façade. Perhaps we succumb to the same form of Stockholm syndrome as his band. Fassbender is one of our best actors, and he brings a serious intensity to a role that could have easily devolved into a cheap gimmick.

Our entry point into the strange world of Frank and his band is an unremarkable corporate drone named Jon Burroughs (Domhnall Gleeson), who is constantly writing pop hooks in his head based on the mundane things he sees while walking down the street. Jon has a chance encounter with Frank’s band after their keyboard player hurls himself into the ocean, and he offers to step up and perform at their gig that night. Before he knows it, he’s the newest member of the band – which also features erratic manager and songwriter Scoot McNairy and glowering Theremin player Maggie Gyllenhaal – and follows them to a secluded country cabin where they plan to record their first album.

For most of its running time, “Frank” is a rigorously conventional comedy about a deeply unconventional group of people, and sometimes it’s aggressive in its attempts to make us laugh at how weird these wannabe outsider artists are. But the film’s third act transforms into a sly, stinging commentary about the indie music scene, as Frank and company make their way to the South by Southwest music festival and discover a shortsighted culture in which context is valued over content. Frank, like the enigmatic Lewis before him, becomes famous not because of his craft but because of his anonymity, and there’s something quietly tragic about a guy being marginalized as a novelty when he’s trying to be taken seriously.

This is not a great movie, and there are some stretches that are almost violently quirky – it doesn’t help, either, that the score often relies on sitcommy musical cues. But its heart is in the right place – we really come to care about this initially repellent band of misfits – and its very last scene, in which a song we’ve heard several times takes on a new and heartbreaking context, is surprisingly effective. Like its namesake, “Frank” is weirdly charming, occasionally off-putting and probably best when taken in small doses.

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