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

Binge Watch: “UnREAL”

“UnREAL” has been called one of the “the best TV shows you’re not watching” this summer. And it’s not surprising if you haven’t heard of it, as a weekly drama on Lifetime. And no one would blame you for dismissing it out of hand, as the series follows the production crew and cast of a fictional “The Bachelor”-type reality show.

Stay with me, though, because “UnREAL” is upfront about the ridiculousness of reality dating while creating characters whose identities aren't so easily defined as hero or villain. The show follows producer Rachel (Shiri Appleby), fresh off an on-set nervous breakdown and break-up, as she returns for the latest season of “Everlasting” to see if she can manufacture a love story between British playboy Adam (Freddie Stroma) and his league of potential brides without selling her soul.     

You don’t have to like reality television to enjoy “UnREAL,” especially since most of your prejudices against the genre may be affirmed: it’s not real; the participants are out for fame, not love; the only people who are more screwed up than the contestants are the people running this circus. 

And if you are a “Bachelor” diehard fan, you might be interested to know that “UnREAL” is based on a short film, “Sequin Raze”, written and directed by former “The Bachelor” producer Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, who co-created “UnREAL” with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” veteran Marti Noxon. The tried and true tropes of reality dating shows are so subtly documented that only faithful viewers (including all us hate-watchers) may notice them.

The series confronts some of the touchy subjects that its “real-life” counterparts handle without much grace, like race relations, antiquated gender politics, mental illness…even death. It gets really dark.

The season finale of “UnREAL” airs on Lifetime on Monday, August 3 at 10 p.m. Previous episodes are available through On Demand, the Lifetime App or mylifetime.com (cable subscription required for episodes 1-5).

Are you watching “UnREAL”? What do you think of reality dating shows? Let us know in the comments!

Image via Lifetime

Friday’s openings: Add ‘Amy’ to the list

I laid out the week's mainstream movie openings below. The Magic Lantern, meanwhile, is opening one of the more intriguing, and better-reviewed, films ever to play the art-house theater. "Amy," Asif Kapadia's documentary about the late British singer Any Winehouse, owns a 97 percent approval rating on the movie-review website Rottentomatoes.com.

If you never heard of Winehouse, well … just know that she had loads of talent, was a critical darling, led a troubled life and — like many tortured talents before her — died young. In 2011 at age 27.

Some of the more impressive comments about the movie follow:

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: "In Kapadia's assured and careful hands, the film becomes less a portrait of a tragic artist, whose downward spiral was exacerbated by opportunistic family members and colleagues, than a discomfiting mirror held up to her audience."

Jordan Levin, Miami Herald: "You don't need to be a fan of British singer Amy Winehouse to be moved by the documentary 'Amy,' a devastating examination of the deadly effect that celebrity culture, media and drugs can have on artists."

David Edelsein, New York Magazine: "Amy is alternately thrilling and devastating, throwing you back and forth until the devastation takes over and you spend the last hour watching the most supernaturally gifted vocalist of her generation chase and find oblivion.

Get free passes to Spokarnage for a Big Night Out

Get out your elbow pads…it's roller derby time!

We're giving away two weekend passes to Spokarnage: A Killer Roller Derby Tournament and a $50 gift card to Zola for our monthly BIG NIGHT OUT! Contest closes Friday, July 31 so enter now!

Spokarnage is the third annual roller derby tournament hosted by Spokannibals and Spokane Sports Commission at the Spokane Convention Center. Cheer on the 24 competing derby teams while enjoying a beer garden, motorcycle display, vendors, and live music! This tournament is one of the largest derby event on the West Coast.

Zola is a downtown Spokane hot-spot for live music, great food and some of the city's best happy hour specials.

See Rules for complete contest details.

Bookish: Get a Pet with Dr. Seuss

Twenty-five years after the publication of the perennial graduation gift Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, a new book by Dr. Seuss is hitting shelves today.

Although legendary children’s book author and illustrator Dr. Seuss, whose real name is Theodor Geisel, passed away in 1991, several unpublished manuscripts were discovered by Audrey Geisel, his wife, and Claudia Prescott, his secretary and friend, during a house remodel in 2013 (hmmm, sounds vaguely familiar…). Random House plans to publish at least two more books based on the uncovered materials in the future (source PRNewswire).

What Pet Should I Get? features the same children depicted in One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish as they visit a pet store in search of the perfect pet.

Book Notes At-A-Glance
Title: What Pet Should I Get?
Author: Dr. Seuss
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: July 28, 2015

For local author events and book news, visit The Spokesman-Review’s Literary Calendar.

The week’s openings: ‘Impossible’ but true

The mission might be impossible, but Hollywood just keeps Cruising along … if you know what I mean. That lame play on words is about the best I can do to intro the week's mainstream movie openings. Anyway, here they are:


"Vacation": Ed Helms plays Rusty Griswold, the son played by Anthony Michael Hall in the 1983 comedy "National Lampoon's Vacation," who wants to make his own family-bonding trek to Walley World. Can you go home again? We'll find out.


"Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation" (IMAX and standard; no 3-D): The IMF team faces its greatest foe, the Syndicate, which is bent on destroying Ethan (Tom Cruise) and friends. Expect to see some stuff blown up real good.

"Twinsters": When two young girls, adopted decades before, connect on social media, they discover their new-found relationship is closer than either could have ever imagined. A documentary that Variety calls "absorbingly personal."

"Aloft": Oscar-winner Jennifer Connelly portrays a woman who encounters the son she'd abandoned 20 years before. Maybe love does mean saying you're sorry.

As for the Magic Lantern, I'll list the openings when they become available.

Last chance to see Skrillex at Shambhala Music Festival

Today is the last day to enter to win a pair of tickets to the Shambhala Music Festival in Salmo River Ranch, British Columbia, August 7-10, 2015!

The 18th annual festival of electronic music and eclectic art is SOLD OUT— this may be your last opportunity to experience the three days of over 300 musical acts on six unique stages, including Mix Master Mike (of the Beastie Boys), Skrillex, DJ Jazzy Jeff and many more.

Enter to win Tickets to Shambhala Music Festival and visit Contests for many more exciting opportunities to win fun prizes from Spokane7.  

Stockholm: Sun, sights and a sunken ship

Above: The stern of the Vasa, stored in its gigantic warehouse museum. Photo by Mary Pat Treuthart.

Sea cruise 2015 continued: Then, finally, the sun came out – just in time for us to emerge from our cruse-ship cabins and see … Stockholm.

And this much was clear: Even two full days, which is all the time we were given for St. Petersburg, wouldn’t be near enough to explore everything the Swedish capital has to offer.

This time we opted for a Hop-on/Hop-off boat service. Showing just how ignorant I am about Baltic geography, I discovered that Stockholm is known as a “city of islands.” In fact, this is how Rick Steves describes it: “One-third water, one-third city, surrounded by woods, bubbling with energy and history, Sweden’s capital is green, clean, and underrated.”

I couldn’t agree more. And the same holds true with Steves’ other sentiment. “If I had to call one European city home, it might be Stockholm.”

I’m ready to move there tomorrow.

As to the city’s being “one-third water,” that, if anything, is an understatement. And it’s a fact that was hidden from us as we arrived at the cruise-ship piers in the dark of night.

So it just made sense: We would take the boat around the city center and stop off whenever the mood struck us.

This allowed us to see much of the Old Town, if hardly anything of the outlying area. We did see the City Hall, the Royal Palace, the National Museum and so on. But before getting off and walking around Old Town, and having lunch, we had to check out the Vasa.

Never heard of it? Well, the Swedish navy wishes it had never heard of it either. It was in 1628 that the brand-new but top-heavy warship, Vasa, capsized and sank just 40 minutes into its maiden voyage – settling in the mud of Stockholm’s harbor. And despite a bit of Swedish hand-wringing, and an inquiry that held no one accountable, there the Vasa sat for some three-plus centuries.

Then in 1956, the wreck was discovered and – through a complicated, careful process – was raised. Now it sits in its own museum, a vast warehouse that includes multi-media displays (including a documentary film) and the preserved ship in some, though hardly all, its former glory.

I’m certain that Stockholm has things that will appeal more to those into art, music, archaeology, natural science, history, etc. But the Vasa Museum is bound to appeal to anyone whose tastes run to maritime history, if not disasters – if not all our inner little boys.

I liked it even better than the place where we eventually had lunch, Barrels Burgers & Beer, which served one of the best burgers I’ve ever eaten – though this being Sweden, the price was enough to make me wonder whether I was being ask to fund the country’s health-care system all by myself.

Then, after a short walk through the city center on this suddenly hot and sun-baked day, we experienced another treat, one that might serve as a high point for this entire cruise: Sailing out of Stockholm, for more than four hours we passed through a series of islands – known as the Stockholm Archipelago – before emerging back into the Baltic Sea.

As we progressed through them, the islands gradually grew smaller and more barren until we passed a final outcropping of land, marked by a lighthouse.

I remember feeling like the Vasa. I didn’t want to leave Stockholm either.

Real life is more than just a headline

By now you’ve likely read about the bombing that took place a few days ago in Suruc, a Turkish town on the Syrian border. The authorities have arrested a suspect, and news reports are explaining the complexities involved in the case.

My wife and I were in Istanbul shortly after the bombing and witnessed demonstrations that took place in that city’s Taksim Square. Thousands of placard-carrying protestors marched past the hotel where we were staying, their chants filling the air for hours.

Unwilling to engage my inner Tom Clouse and join the crowd, I remained a bystander, watching. And it was only later, when the maitre d’ of the hotel restaurant where we were eating hurriedly began closing windows that we learned the demonstration had turned violent.

“Pepper spray,” he said.

BBC and other services reported that the police employed firehoses, too.

The next day, not a sign of the event could be seen. Life resumed as normal, and we caught a ride to the train station so that we could travel to the western Turkey city of Eskisehir.

Of course, nothing will ever return to normal for the people who lost loved ones in Suruc. The world can be such a willfully violent place.

Helsinki: no time to do it justice

Sea cruise 2015 review continued (see below): OK, before we get to the Vasa, let’s talk about our stop in Helsinki. Yeah, I forgot that our cruise ship stopped in Finland.

Not that I have anything against Finland. In fact, I’m a big fan. A few years ago, when I spent a month In Cali, Colombia, studying Spanish, I met a cool Finnish guy named Walter, whose English was as good as mine – and whose Spanish was even better. Of course, he had a Colombian girlfriend, so that wasn’t particularly surprising.

We even became Facebook friends.

So I was looking forward to our stop in Helsinki. But, again, some cities can’t be explored in the few hours that Celebrity gave us from the moment they let us disembark (10 a.m.) to the moment we were due back on board (4:45 p.m.). Especially when rain threatens our every step.

Again, we opted to buy Hop-on/Hop-off passes. And we did manage to check out one of the city’s main attractions, the Temppeliaukio Church – better known as the Rock Church. Which though it dates back only to the late 1960s, and so is a contrast to virtually every other church that we have seen – or will see – on this trip, the church is an impressive sight. Hey, a half million visitors a year can’t be wrong.

And we spent some time in Stockmann, the department store that reportedly isn’t just the biggest department store in Finland but is the biggest – in terms of area and total sales – in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland as well. Oh, and the Starbucks next door.

But – and here’s the refrain so far – we still had the rain to deal with. So we dried out at a restaurant whose name we got out of Rick Steves’ guidebook, a buffet-type place called Café Lasipalasti, and ate our fill for bargain prices. A premium, actually, because it’s easy to bleed money in the north of Europe.

The rest of the city we saw from the inside of the Hop-on/Hop-off bus. All the way back to the cruise ship, we passed the city by — we even caught a glimplse of Market Square, cenral Helsinki's square that — on sunny days, at least, offers an open market. Things we missed: the draws of Mannerheim Street, the Finnish National Museum of Art, the Finnish National Museum, Finlandia Hall … and so on. So many more reasons to one day return.

And now, for sure …

We look for the Vasa.

A South Perry summer: Sir Mix-a-Lot and plenty of local bands

The Perry District is turning out to be the place to go if you want to get your free live music fix this summer. The South Perry Street Fair takes over the neighborhood on Saturday, starting at 10 a.m. with a parade. Live music starts at 1:30 p.m., and the lineup features local acts Real Life Rockaz, Dead Serious Lovers, Water Monster, Silver Treason, Mama Doll and the Marshall McLean Band.

The Lantern Tap House, 1004 S. Perry St., is also hosting concerts throughout the summer. Upcoming shows include the DJ duo Twin Towers on Aug. 8, Bartlett co-owner Karli Ingersoll’s new side project Windoe on Aug. 15 and Americana twosome Feral Anthem on Aug. 22.

In September, things will get loud again for the second annual Perry Street Shakedown, which takes over the neighborhood on Sept. 11, 12 and 13. The big get this year is “Baby Got Back” rapper Sir Mix-a-Lot, who headlines Saturday’s lineup. Other acts include Mama Doll, B Radicals, Milonga and Dem Empire. The event is free, though there’s a $3 cover to hang out in the beer garden.

Below: Sir Mix-a-Lot, a Washington native, performs his signature tune with the Seattle Symphony last year.

Friday’s openings: For kids, teens and other humans

Though I've been out of touch for a couple of weeks (some would say far longer), I do have the skinny on the week's movie openings. Friday's openings are as follows:

"Pixels" (3-D and regular): When aliens attack the Earth, only a team of old-school video-game diehards stands in their way. Though directed by Chris Columbus, three words are key: Starring Adam Sandler.

"Paper Towns": Written by John Green ("The Fault in Our Stars"), this young-adult flick follows a teen boy's search for the lost girl next door. Lessons no doubt learned all around.

"Infinitely Polar Bear": Mark Ruffalo stars as a manic-depressive father who tries to win back his estranged wife by taking care of their two spirited daughters. Daddy daycare?

"Testament of Youth": Based on Vera Brittain's autobiography, which recounts a woman's struggle to forge an independent career in England during and after World War I.

"Southpaw": Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a veteran boxer, suffering from a calamitous loss, who tries for a comeback. Calling Rocky Balboa.

And at the Magic Lantern (besides picking up a second run of "Me & Earl and the Dying Girl").

"The Wolfpack": A documentary focusing on a set of brothers, raised in isolation, who learned about the wide world through movies. Are you … talking to me?

So go. See a movie. And … enjoy.

St. Petersburg: There is no smiling in Russia

Above: The Peterhof Park and Gardens, which some refer to as "Russia's Versailles."

2015 cruise review continued: (To catch up, check out the posts below)

I’ve already made the point that you can’t experience more than cursorily any city larger than Ritzville in the relatively short time provided by a cruise ship line. So how, then, do you make sense of a metropolis (pop. 5 million) such as St. Petersburg, Russia?

Well, you make do with what time you have. And if you don’t have unlimited funds, one of the tricks is to find a good guided-tour company. The tours offered by Celebrity can be good – we toured a penguin habitat in New Zealand and had a great time – but they can also be prohibitively expensive. So we opted to find our own.

And SPB Tours was our choice. It wasn’t cheap (almost $700 for two of us), but it did come with two Russian visas (a $300 savings in itself), and it provided: a two-day package, van service that picked us up and returned us to the cruise ship terminal each day, the expertise of an English-speaking tour guide (ours was an assertive little blond named Olga B.), access at no additional cost (and only marginal waiting) to a number of the major tourist sites, lunch at no additional cost for both days, two different river cruises and plenty of time to take photos, ask questions, buy some souvenirs (chocolate bars with pictures of Vladimir Putin on the cover) or just sit and rest our aching feet (so many streets in the city, so few unoccupied benches).

Over the two days in St. Petersburg, our itinerary was: click here.

Are you exhausted yet? By the time we piled back aboard late in the afternoon of the second day, we certainly were. But here were the high points:

The subway: Seriously. The Metro escalator Olga B. took us on descended into the bowels of St. Petersburg. And as we passed 500, maybe a 1,000, people coming up – not a single one, by the way, who was smiling – we wondered: Why the hell is she taking us down here? Well, in addition to giving us a look at ordinary Russian life, some of the ornate mosaics were fairly impressive. We left, well, impressed.

Peter and Paul’s Fortress and Cathedral: Hey, look, that’s where Catherine the Great is buried!

Peterhof Park and Gardens: We took a hydrofoil ride here and, after trying not to freak out because I couldn’t see where the vessel’s emergency exit was, we disembarked to see what some call the “Russian Versailles.” Dating back to Peter the Great and the early 1700s, the palace and its gardens give ample evidence of the czar’s desire to emulate the greatness he saw in Europe’s capital cities.

The Amber Room: A room in Catherine Palace. Made of amber. The fact that it’s a re-creation (the original disappeared during World War II) makes it no less … ummmm, garishly impressive?

The Hermitage: People spend weeks touring this maze of rooms, each one more splendiferous than the next and filled with more paintings than any museum in the world. We had 90 minutes. Still, if ever we wondered why people eventually revolted against the Russian nobility, well …

The Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood: Great name, right? Oh, great design, too.

Yusupov Palace: Where Rasputin was murdered. The whole story is told, complete with wax dummies.

Also: The Russian pierogies that we had for lunch were scrumptious.

Then it was time to head back to the ship. As Olga B. said (imagine her speaking in a thick Russian accent, ending most every sentence with a throaty chuckle): “There is no time to see everything. You will just have to come back – hyeh-hyeh-hyeh.”

That invitation is tucked away with my passport.

Next up: Vasa, Vasa, where is the Vasa?

Auntie’s online campaign for George R.R. Martin

Worldcon 2015 is less than a month away, and Auntie's Bookstore is getting psyched with an online campaign to entice George R.R. Martin to stop by their store during his trip to Spokane for the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention.

The local bookstore is requesting that fans and followers use #SpokaneLovesGRRM on social media to show their appreciation for the A Song of Fire and Ice scribe. Participants are also eligible to win prizes from Auntie's Bookstore and Uncle's Games.

The lineup of science fiction and fantasy authors for "Sasquan"—a nickname for this year's convention inspired by the notorious Northwest cryptid—includes guests of honor Brad Foster, David Gerrold, Vonda N. McIntyre, Tom Smith and Leslie Turek, plus a special guest aboard the International Space Station, via remote, NASA Astronaut Dr. Kjell Lindgren.

Visit Sasquan.org for convention details.

Image via Auntie's Bookstore Facebook page.

Tallinn, Estonia: Hopping through the rain

Above: A Hop-on/Hop-off bus is a cheap way to see the sights.

Sea-cruise 2015 report continued: Tallinn, Estonia, is about as approachable a tourist destination as the former Soviet Union has to offer. Unlike other cities on our Baltic Sea cruise, its heart – Tallinn’s Old Town – is barely a 15-minute walk from where the cruise ships dock.

Like all tourist experiences, though, the ease of that approachability depends on weather. And as it turns out, the rain that had hit the night of our return to Warnemünde, Germany, followed us east. And so we found our arrival in Tallinn to be marked by both rain and wind – the kind of wind that can turn umbrellas inside out.

So we opted for what many European (and other) cities these days offer: a hop-on/hop-off bus tour. For just 20 euro (about $21.66) a person, you get access to a double-decker bus, off-on service to a predetermined list of tourist destinations and a cheap set of earphones that gives you access to a prerecorded explanation of what you’re seeing. Never mind that much of what is said is either unintelligible because the system at your seat doesn’t work, offers up information that is too obscure to be of any real interest or is self-aggrandizing to the point it would gag Donald Trump.

(And as an aside: Not every hop-on/hop-off experience is the same. We got good use out of a similar service a couple of years ago in Delhi, India, especially because the service there had hired an actual English-speaking guide instead of relying on a recording. But the service in Rome, which we used on two separate occasions, is run by employees who take glee in racing past official stops filled with paying customers waving their arms.)

But in a rainstorm, you take what you can get. So hop-on/hop-off it was. We hopped off ever so gingerly after a short tour around the modern part of Estonia’s capital city (pop. 413,782), which included looks, as I recall, at a lot of apartment buildings. Tallinn is known as a technological center, and for tourists it boast a few museums and even a zoo, but not much of anything the city has to offer was available during the limited time we had – especially considering the weather forced us to find shelter whenever we could.

So we concentrated on the Old Town, which is definitely worth the effort, though again rain and wind caused us to skip past much of even that small area, which is split into Upper and Lower sections. Narrow stone streets lead past churches, small shops and restaurants, each of which was calling our name – especially one inviting eatery that allowed us both the luxury of drying ourselves off and at least three of us getting some pretty good food (my “risotto with roasted tomatoes” tasted like something canned by Chef Boyardee, but maybe the rain was affecting my mood just a bit).

Anyway, following our lengthy lunch, we tentatively made our way back down the stone streets, trying not to slip into the Gulf of Finland, eventually joining the others who were returning to the cruise ship Silhouette.

Oh, and I bought a stocking cap that says “Estonia.” How cool is that?

Verdict: No way did we see anything close to even some of what Tallinn has to offer. But the taste that we carried away was tantalizing – even if mine seemed a bit canned.

Next up: Why the Russians revolted.

Berlin: Mad dash to Checkpoint Charlie

Above: A photo of tourists cavorting at what used to be the portal to East Berlin.

Cruise 2015 report continued (see prior posts for more info): The first stop our Celebrity line cruise ship made outside of Amsterdam was the port at Warnemünde, Germany. Our stay there followed a full day at sea — and, to be frank, follows the plan that was included in our other two cruises, namely to add in a stop that nobody seems to want. (It's not as if Warnemünde rings with the same kind of city-envy as, say, Stockholm or St. Petersburg.)

So rather than take in what sites this seaside resort village has to offer, or sign up for one of Celebrity's own sponsored bus-to-Berlin tours at 175 euro (about $190) per person, we opted to rent a car and drive ourselves. We had only about 14 hours before we had to back on board, and the trip itself was going to take up almost five hours in itself, but we had an incentive: My brother-in-law's nephew lives there with his wife and two children.

So we drove. Or rather my brother-in-law Steve drove, which allowed him to indulge his race-car inclination on those stretches of the Autobahn where no speed limits were observed. Even so, we were passed by any number of cars. Even, once, by a minivan.

Our short afternoon stay in Berlin included a fine home-made lunch, prepared by the nephew — Patrick, aided by his German-born wife Katrin — but also a walk through the neighborhood that included a stop at the former Checkpoint Charlie. Funny that such a spot of once-deadly importance has now become a kind of joke landmark, populated by any number of foreigners using their selfie-sticks to photograph themselves with the actors wearing U.S. Army uniforms.

Anyway, in early evening, Steve guided us back to Warnemünde, we dropped off the car, reboarded the ship just before a rainstorm filled the sky with a driving rain and the occasional burst of thunder and lightning. This was to prove a precursor for our next stop.

Next up: A piece of preciousness called Tallinn. 

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