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

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. 

Amsterdam: Beware the bicycles

Above: A selection from the tasting menu at Amsterdam's MAX International Restaurant, which specializes in Indonesian cuisine.

So, the question persists: Why would an experienced traveler ever take a sea cruise? So many answers to that one, not the least of which is non-stop drinking and dining and the chance to just sit and let the world drift by.

But the one that fits at least two of the three cruises that my wife and I have taken over the past few years involves convenience. Our first was up the Alaska Inside Passage, which took us from Vancouver, British Columbia, to just short of Anchorage. Our second was around New Zealand, beginning and ending in Sydney, Australia. And the one we took most recently was through the Baltic Sea, beginning and ending in Amsterdam.

Yeah, we could have flown from Sydney to, say, Auckland and rented a car. But in all three cases, it just seemed easier to cruise our way around.

We left Spokane on June 30, and after connecting in Salt Lake, flew to Amsterdam. We'd arranged to meet my wife's sister and her husband a couple of days before our cruise set sail just to enjoy some of the city's qualities.

Which is the perfect opportunity to make a point about travel. To me, travel — like appreciation of the arts — is a personal thing. You either connect with a place, or you don't. And unless you stay in a village, a city or even a country long enough, you can't really say that you've given it a chance. I admit that I had to visit Florence, Italy, at least a half dozen times before I got over my aversion to its narrow, dark and often crowded streets. And now I love Florence.

So maybe someday I'll love Amsterdam, as others do. But not at the moment. For one thing, our stay was short, barely a day and a half. For another, it was marked by 97-degree temperatures. And while I commend the city's commitment to bicycling, after getting nearly run over the first three times I attempted to walk along the street, I began to lose my patience. Few cars, many bicycles, great. But make sure you have passable sidewalks, people.

We hit a number of the standard sites — the Van Gogh Museum, the Anne Frank House, the Amsterdam Museum, the Rijksmuseum — and, in the time we had, we also walked the canals, had great gin and tonics, a couple of tasty meals and — because why not? — we stopped in at one of Amsterdam's famous coffee houses. Only we didn't order coffee, if you know what I mean.

So, as I say, Amsterdam has lots going for it. And my experience there wasn't necessarily typical. So take everything I have to say about it with a grain of salt. Or, better, with a twist of herb.

Next up: A quick trek to Berlin.

Istanbul: a mosque on every picturesque corner

This trip report will start in the middle. I left Spokane on June 30 and have been traveling nearly non-stop, with short (some merely hours long) stays in various Baltic and Scandinavian ports. I am now in Istanbul, as the photo above shows, and the contrast couldn't be greater.

For one thing, the means of transportation. I spent the first dozen days of the trip aboard a Celebrity line cruse ship, the Silhouette. Along with 2,882 (or so) other passengers, my wife, her sister and husband, and I slept and ate and drank and (sometimes) exercised aboard a ship that, at 319 meters, is just 14 meters shorter than a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier.

Let's just say I grew to appreciate a good margarita, if not a recumbent bicycle.

We arrived in Istanbul yesterday, having left the cruise ship at 6:30 a.m., flying from Amsterdam to Rome, then on to Istanbul, arriving after a full day's travel with only a few mishaps. One involved a near riot caused by a fracas between Turkish passengers on our Alitalia flight and a belligerent Italian official (the Turks slapping the bus windows in support of their fellow countrymen proved particularly impressive). The other came when Turkey's answer to Rambo decided to chastise me for thinking it was OK for me to join my wife at the passport desk, even though another couple had just done the same thing.

News at 11: International incident narrowly averted.

Then came some 50 minutes in a car (we'd arranged online for a drive-for-hire) in which our driver kept saying, "Fifteen minute. Bad traffic. Good traffic? Five minute." We finally arrived at the comfortable Hotel Sultania, were greeted by Turks of the opposite attitude from Passport Rambo, joined our friends Karen and Allen for a late dinner and then fell into bed.

Today we walked for miles, in the sunshine (another contrast: much of the Baltic part of our trip was marked by 60-degree weather, overcast skies and intermittent rain), visiting three of Istanbul's greatest mosques, its shopping mecca Grand Bazaar and touring the various side streets where real life (not to mention better bargains) occurs.

For dinner, we took a taxi through the narrow streets, along the coast north of the city, to the sea-side restaurant Sur Balik (Istanbul sits on a waterway known as the Straits of Bosphorus that connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, which flows into the Mediterranean). After a dinner of various appetizers (called mezes), both cold and hot, accompanied by red wine and glasses of raki, topped off by baklava, we headed back to our hotel.

Tomorrow we plan on doing much the same, though probably with the help of some of the city's seemingly convenient mass transit. These legs aren't getting any younger.

Trueman set to wax poetic on Thursday

I've known Terry Trueman for the better part of three decades. Which is a really weird thought, all things considered, especially involving the quick passage of time.

In any event, Trueman is one of my favorite writers. I remember when he first wrote his poem "Sheehan," which was based on his relationship with his son. And I remember when he used the basis of that same story to write his first young-adult novel, "Stuck in Neutral," which went on to be named a 2001 Michael L. Printz Award honor book.

Over the years, Trueman has come and gone, splitting time between Spokane and (during the winter) a home in Arizona. And all the while, he has continued writing. His latest contribution is a collection of poetry titled "Where's the Fire?" And it is from that collection that he will read at 7 p.m. Thursday night at Auntie's Bookstore.

Click here to read an interview with Trueman conducted by Carolyn Lamberson of The Spokesman-Review. Then go and buy a copy of his book. Oh, his reading might prove interesting, too. 

Enter to win ON TAP swag!

Last chance to enter to win an ON TAP Prize Pack for July! A new contest begins tomorrow.

Remember, you can enter every month for the new contest. At the end of the year, all entries will go into a drawing for a Grand Prize (TBA) at the end of the year. Enter each month for another chance to win and increase your chances for the Grand Prize.

Each On Tap Prize Pack includes a growler from a local brewery (beer not included), a stylish On Tap t-shirt, an On Tap drawstring bag (perfect for beer festivals) and On Tap coasters.

Giveaway #6 ends today, July 15, 2015, so don’t delay! Visit spokane7.com/contests to enter.

Must be 21 years or older to participate; see Contest Rules for complete details.

Friday’s openings: Schumer hits the big screen, Rudd gets small

The last few weeks have unleashed a number of incredible creatures into area theaters – minions, emotions, velociraptors, talking teddy bears, dutiful Army dogs, Channing Tatum. Friday’s releases bring a new batch of characters, some more human than others. Here are the movies currently scheduled to open this week at the AMC:

“Ant-Man”: “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is still in theaters, and yet here comes the Marvel factory with another 3-D CGI spectacle certain to be, despite its title character’s size, a mammoth hit. The studio has had a lot of success transforming sardonic, atypical leading men into plausible superheroes, so here’s hoping Paul Rudd can deliver the action as well as the laughs.

“Mr. Holmes”: What’s this – another spin on Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary sleuth? This one at least has the benefit of starring the incomparable Ian McKellen as a retired Holmes, who must return once more into the fray to reopen a decades-old cold case. Directed by Bill Condon, who previously got an Oscar-nominated performance out of McKellen in 1998’s “Gods and Monsters.”

“Trainwreck”: Director Judd Apatow has turned plenty of actors into bankable movie stars, and here he tries his hand with comedian Amy Schumer, who also penned this film’s script. She plays a magazine writer who, having avoided romantic commitment all her life, starts to fall for a charming sports doctor (Bill Hader). Promises to be unapologetically R-rated.

The Magic Lantern continues its current schedule and plans to open “The Wolfpack,” Crystal Moselle’s odd but compelling documentary, next Friday.

The trailer for “Mr. Holmes”:

Spokane votes acts onto region’s musical bucket list

The top act on Spokane fans’ wish list is Garth Brooks, followed by AC/DC, Pink, Maroon 5 and the Florida Georgia Line.

In May, the Spokane Arena asked fans to submit the names of artists they’d most like to see come to the arena. The result is the Bucket List 2015.

The top 10 acts on the list are: Garth Brooks, AC/DC, Pink, Maroon 5, Florida Georgia Line, Taylor Swift (pictured above), Metallica, U2, Justin Timberlake and Luke Bryan.

Other wish-list prformers include more than a few who have been here in recent years. Among them: Avenged Sevenfold (October 2011), Dierks Bentley (April 2012), Blake Shelton (March 2012 AND September 2014), Pearl Jam (November 2013), Fleetwood Mac (May 2013), Bon Jovi (October 2013), Florida Georgia Line (February 2013), Carrie Underwood (February 2013), Luke Bryan (eight weeks ago) and the Eagles (six weeks ago). Oh, and a couple acts who will be here later this year: Little Big Town and Five Finger Death Punch. Not together, though. Little Big Town will be at the INB Performing Arts Center on Nov. 21, while Five Finger will rock the arena on Sept. 13.

See the full list here.

And if for no reason other than this is the only act in the Top 10 I'd love to see, here's a little AC/DC.


Win Lake Time beach towels in our photo contest

Did you get some great photos of all the fun at the lake over the holiday weekend? Let's see 'em! Enter Lovin' Those Lakes 2015 for a chance to win two Spokane7 beach towels!

Lake Time beach towel

We’ll pick winners on July 24, Aug. 21 and Sept. 18 based on entries submitted the previous month. Remember to include with your photo your name, your email address and a short description of the lake and why it’s special to you. Photos can include a landscape only, your pals/family or even a selfie of you enjoying the fun.

Email entries to contest@spokesman.com or upload to our website. See Rules for complete details.

Find Lake Time online with KHQ Lake Report.

‘Marnie’ has the trademark Studio Ghibli look

When the Magic Lantern reopens, as it is supposed to do today, not only will it feature a new digital but it will also screen the latest — perhaps the last — animated effort from Japan's acclaimed Studio Ghibli. My review of the film, "When Marnie Was There," which I wrote for Spokane Public Radio, follows:

In the realm of movie animation, several names rise above the rest. Walt Disney, obviously. Chuck Jones, too. And any list, by necessity, has to include the name Hayao Miyazaki.

None of these individual animators worked alone. They may have been more innovators, leaders of their respective teams – Disney Studios, say, or Warner Bros.’ animation arm – but in the end the influence each had on the genre of animation may have been as important as any goal each may have personally achieved.

Take Miyazaki. The Studio Ghibli productions he directed are among the greatest animated films ever made: “Castle in the Sky,” “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Princess Mononoke” and the Oscar-winning “Spirited Away.”

Yet the studio is responsible for a number of other notable animated exercises. Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s “The Secret World of Arriety,” for example, or “From Up on Poppy Hill,” which was directed by Miyazaki’s son, Goro Miyazaki. Or arguably the greatest of the bunch, Isao Takahata’s masterful study of war, “Grave of the Fireflies.”

That’s all in the past. A year ago, news reports broke that – along with the announcement of the elder Miyazaki’s retirement – the studio itself was closing. Almost as quickly, reports broke that the studio was merely “taking a break.” Whatever Studio Ghibli’s long-term status is, the short term has brought us a new film, “When Marnie Was There,” which is scheduled to open today at the Magic Lantern Theater.

Based on a 1967 English young-adult novel of the same name, “When Marnie Was There” tells the story of a 12-year-old girl named Anna who doesn’t have the most positive self image. In fact, she hates herself. As the film progresses, we gradually learn the reasons for this. But at first, she just seems troubled – and a tad ungrateful to her foster mother, whom she refers to merely as her “auntie.”

Concerned over her foster daughter’s asthma, and her dark moods, Anna’s auntie sends her from the city of Sapporo to a small, ocean-side village to live with friends, the remarkably upbeat Oiwas. Content only when she is sketching, and following an abortive attempt by Mrs. Oiwa to connect her with some local children, Anna remains alone – but fascinated by a battered mansion that stands on the marshy coastline.

It is at this ghostly mansion, which at turns is dark and deserted and then full of light and life, that Anna meets the mysterious Marnie – who, as it turns out, becomes not just her occasional BFF but also the key to everything Anna was and is.

The themes that director Yonebayashi explores in “When Marnie Was There” aren’t as clearly defined, or resolved, as his previous film, 2010’s “The Secret World of Arriety” – much less anything by Miyazaki. Feeling both overfull and underwritten, even while delving into such serious subjects as child abandonment and abuse, “Marnie” also bears a certain sense of the predictable.

Yet the animation that Yonebayashi utilizes, from shots of moonlight reflected off the sea to a storm hitting a seemingly haunted silo, represent classic Studio Ghibli: the cartoon as actual art.

Punk Poet tackles Lewis and Clark trek tonight

Many of us, at one time or another, have fantasized about the explorers Lewis and Clark. My own fantasies have largely been confined to driving along sections of I-90 and thinking, "Wonder what it would have been like to come along here on horses, carrying everything you need to live, never knowing what was over the next ridge?"

And that would be about the time I'd reach out to turn up my car's air conditioning.

John Burgess has done some of the same kind of fantasizing. For years the Seattle poet has been writing poems about the two explorers, about Sacajawea and other aspects of their expedition. And he's been visiting many of the sites cited in the expedition records. Now he's collected a variety of mixed media, from poems to cartoons, drawings and personal reflections, into a book titled "by Land…"

Burgess will read from his book at 7 tonight at Auntie's Bookstore.

As he told Big Sky State Buzz, Burgess didn't organize the book to be read strictly front to back.

“It’s like finding your own way,” he said. “You can open the book and go through it in any way you want to. Mine is arbitrary and is the order I intersected with the trail, but you may have a different order you may want to read it in. I just didn’t want to restrict it to just how I did it.”

The week’s openings: Fashion, family and fun

I've already posted that "Terminator Genysis" and "Magic Mike XXL" will open Wednesday, and that the animated feature "When Marnie Was There" will open Friday at the Magic Lantern. But I have not posted the following:

Also opening Wednesday:

"The Overnight": A new-to-L.A. family's "playdate" turns into something unexpected. What, they're forced to endure a night at Chuck E. Cheese?

Also opening Friday:

"Saint Laurent": The brilliant, if self-destructive, French designer is profiled in this narrative biopic focusing on the years 1967-76. That's when things were oh-so, mmmmm, vogue.

So go. To a movie. And enjoy.

Lantern returns with Studio Ghibli’s ‘Marnie’

Word finally comes that when the Magic Lantern reopens, on Friday July 3, the theater will screen the Studio Ghibli animated feature "When Marnie Was There."

Called by some the studio's "last planned feature," the movie joins a long list of Studio Ghibli film such as "Princess Mononoke," "My Neighbor Totoro," "Grave of the Fireflies" and, my favorite, "Spirited Away."

From Entertainment Weekly: "(T)though its bulky script (based on a British ghost story) keeps it from the magnificent heights of the studio’s classics, the animation is dazzling."

Danner puts the glow in ‘Dreams’

If you're old enough to remember watching "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In," then you're old enough to relate to the characters featured in the movie "I'll See You in My Dreams." And perhaps even sensitive enough to empathize with their feelings.

Whatever, a transcript of my review of "I'll See You in My Dreams" for Spokane Public Radio follows:

Blythe Danner has always been more a part of movie backdrops than anything resembling a featured player. Even in the first movie I ever remember seeing her in, 1979’s “The Great Santini,” she played third fiddle to Robert Duvall and Michael O’Keefe, both of whom earned Oscar nominations.

So now that she’s 72, you’d think that her career would be long over. Yet, thanks to writer director Brett Haley, it isn’t. The woman better known to the world at large as Gwyneth Paltrow’s mom is the star of Haley’s small, yet effective, film “I’ll See You in My Dreams.”

And the wait for Danner’s movie star to glow has been worth the effort.

She plays Carol Petersen, a septuagenarian, widowed for two decades, who lives a disciplined, staid life with her pet dog, her three best pals, a nightly bottle of chardonnay and the sense that anything resembling romance has long passed her by – a sense that is magnified after a horrific night of speed dating.

Then things change. Her dog dies. She’s tormented by a rat that shows up in her otherwise tidy house – a rat, by the way, that the exterminator doubts ever existed. She strikes up a budding friendship with the young guy Lloyd – played by Martin Starr – who cleans her pool. And she meets Bill, a wealthy divorcé played by the ever dependable Sam Elliott.

And just that fast, Carol sees that she might actually enjoy the time she has left.

If that all sounds a bit too pat, well, it would be – if writer-director Haley didn’t have a strict sense for the unpredictable. Just when you think you know where “I’ll See You in My Dreams” is going, Haley takes you in the opposite and – at least in one instance – shocking direction. Along the way, he takes his time, pacing his film patiently and giving us just enough character development to be intriguing while writing the kind of unforced dialogue that, in most cases, feels both artful and authentic.

Haley does insist on casting a trio of actresses – Mary Kay Place, Rhea Perlman and June Squibb – who seem straight out of a Casting 101 audition. And, at least to me, their “Golden Girls”-type moments bear all the stereotypes that the movie otherwise avoids.

“I’ll See You in My Dreams” has several moments that salvage it, though. The scene where Carol sings karaoke – showing that the former cabaret singer still knows how to manipulate a tune – is moving. Her moments with Bill feel as sexy as they do natural. Her tendency to waver around her daughter, well played by Malin Ackerman, might have you begging for more context. But her moments with Lloyd are everything they need to be.

The result is a film that portrays aging and elder emotion in a way that avoids most of the cheap jokes and clichés a less talented filmmaker would have reveled in – a film that Danner waited a lifetime to play but, when the opportunity came, played it as well as anyone could.

Wear your PJs and see ‘Home’ for free

Once, actually it was during my 1993 honeymoon in Maui, I discovered how fun it was to read the local newspaper's crime news listings.

Bear with me here. It's not as if the listings detailed anything remotely like serious crime. No, it was mostly somebody complaining about a chicken attacking their garden, somebody else reporting that their lunch had been stolen, or grousing that a parked car was ruining someone's view of the beach. It made for fascinating reading — in between my other honeymoon activities.

I recalled that newspaper feature this morning as I perused The Spokesman-Review's Community Calendar. Amid the dozens of activities the day offers, from invitations to art shows to museum exhibitions to drop-in sporting events, one particular notice attracted my attention: something called a "Pajama Party at the Movies."

If you click on the above link, you'll discover what I did — that if you show up at noon or at 5 today at the Garland Theater, and you're carrying a pair of pajamas that you want to donate, you'll be granted free admission to see a screening of the DreamWorks animated film "Home." The donations are meant for "a foster child in need."

You're invited to get fully into the spirit of the event and wear PJs yourself, if you want — though it's probably not expected that you'll donate the pair you wear.

The parties begin at noon and 5. Have fun. And keep reading the Community Calendar. I know I will.

Right now I have to go out in the yard. A rafter of wild turkeys is harassing my cat. Somebody call Crime Check.

Lantern reopening set for July 3

Above: Movie coffee is mostly swill, except at the Magic Lantern.

If you've been suffering from a Magic Lantern withdrawal — and what area movie fan hasn't at one time or another over the years? — here's good news: Spokane's stalwart art moviehouse is scheduled to reopen just in time to wish the country a happy 239th birthday.

Yes, the word from theater manager Jonathan Abramson is that the theater will reopen on Friday, July 3rd. No word yet on what the theater will be playing. But stay tuned.

Whatever it does play will be rendered in its all-new digital format. And the best news? The theater's espresso will remain its standard self, the best served — yes, I'll say it again — in any movie theater this side of Seattle.

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