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

The week’s openings redux: Mommy fearest

One addition to the week's movie-opening list:

"The Disappointments Room": More paranormal thrills and chills. In the words of IMDB, "A mother and her young son release unimaginable horrors from the attic of their rural dream home." Question: What, they can't afford mothballs? Another question: What, Kate Beckinsale needs another beach house or something?

Still no word on or from the Magic Lantern. But somebody's updating that website.

The fantasy story is/was ‘NeverEnding’

Even as an adult, I've always liked children's films. The good ones, anyway. Classic Disney, for example.

One of my favorites debuted in 1984. "The NeverEnding Story," which was based on a 1979 novel by German writer Michael Ende, tells the story of a young boy who likes to read. Still grieving the death of his mother, and estranged from his father, young Bastian (Barret Oliver) delves into a mysterious book set in the fantasy world of Fantasia.

Bastian first reads about the world, about the Empress and about the story's hero Atreyu, before ultimately realizing that he is part of the story, too. An important part.

While the special effects will seem crude by today's standards, the film's director, Wolfgang Petersen, knows how to tell a story. In fact, Petersen was responsible for one of the greatest war movies of all time, the 1981 World War II submarine movie "Das Boot."

You'll get a chance to see "The NeverEnding Story" tomorrow at either 2 or 7 p.m. at Regal's Northtown Mall Cinemas. Click here for more information.

And enjoy your trip to Fantasia. I certainly did.

Friday’s openings: Crashes and Crusoe

As we take advantage of this sunny Labor Day, we can still take the time to consider what will be opening in theaters on Friday. The movies scheduled to open across the country this coming weekend are as follows:

"Sully": Clint Eastwood directed this biopic of Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the man who piloted a U.S. Airway jet to a successful landing in the Hudson River following the loss of both engines. Another plumb role for Tom Hanks.

"When the Bough Breaks": Unable to have children of their own, a couple (Morris Chestnut, Regina Hall) hire a surrogate (Jaz Sinclair), who develops an, ummmmmm, unhealthy obsession with her well-muscled employer. Sounds somewhat familiar.

"The Wild Life": From IMDB: "A daring parrot recounts how Robinson Crusoe came to be stranded on a tropical island." Straight from the Belgian animation company nWave.

That's it for the moment. I'll have final bookings when the local theaters make their final announcements. (Still no word on what's going on at the Magic Lantern, though talks between some of the principals are reportedly ongoing.)

‘Lo and Behold’ reflects Herzog’s worldview

When I saw that Werner Herzog's new documentary "Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World," was playing On Demand, I had to watch it. And then I had to review it, which I did for Spokane Public Radio:

Over the past half century, the world has experienced the works created by scores of interesting filmmakers. No contemporary filmmaker, though, has produced more intriguing work than the German-born Werner Herzog.

From his very first efforts – 1970’s bizarre feature “Even Dwarfs Started Small,” for example – to his most recent release, the documentary “Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World,” Herzog has shown a unique combination of innate curiosity and Teutonic fatalism. It’s as if he wants to understand how life works while harboring a deep-seated realization that it’s all just a horrible mistake.

Take this quote from his superb 2005 documentary, “Grizzly Man,” a film that tells the sad story of Timothy Treadwell, a would-be nature documentarian who was killed and eaten by the very bears he professed to love: “I believe the common denominator of the universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility, and murder.”

Sorry, but I just can’t do justice to Herzog’s distinctive voice, his words delivered, as always, at a delicate but deliberate pace. That voice is heard all through “Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World,” as Herzog attempts to examine the single most important development of our modern era: the Internet.

What’s curious about the film is what Herzog ISN’T attempting to do, which would be to give his audience a comprehensive, historical understanding of what the Internet is and how it was developed. Much of that information, of course, can be found here and there in the 10 separate chapters that Herzog uses to frame his storyline.

One of the chapters records the very first Internet message, “Lo” – shortened from LOG IN – which is where the film gets its title. One confronts people who suffer from Internet addiction and others who suffer from the attendant wireless radiation signals. One chapter indeed does show the mainframe computer where the first message was sent, while another shows us the damage that Internet trolls so often do by revealing the sad experience of a family that became a target of ridicule after graphic photos of their dead daughter were posted on the Web.

And in between, we have legions of talking heads – scientists, journalists, entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk – who engage in the reveries – the states of dreamy meditation or fanciful musings – that Herzog leads them to with questions such as, “Does the Internet dream of itself?”

Even so, Herzog is more interested in how the Internet is used, what wonders it can bring about and – maybe more important to his own sensibilities – what horrors it might lead to. If, as more than one interviewee states, the world has grown dependent on the Internet, what do we do – and what may be irretrievably lost – if, say, a solar flare knocks out all our electronics?

One thing Herzog tells us: In the case of such an event, Wikipedia has a plan to print as much information as possible on paper.

My hope would be that someone makes sure that at least one copy of all Herzog’s films would be saved, too.

Scared of clowns? Rob Zombie wants YOU

My Movies 101 partner Nathan Weinbender loves to see films such as "Nerve" and "Don't Breathe." Otherwise, he's a discerning filmgoer.

I wonder, though, whether he's going to attend tonight's screening of "Rob Zombie's 31," which is playing as a special Fathom Events attraction at the Northtown Mall Regal Cinemas 12. The film, which comes from the musician/filmmaker famous for horror porn such as "House of 1,000 Corpses" and a couple of "Halloween" remakes," is playing at 7 p.m.

You can order tickets here.

Here is the film synopsis according to IMDB.com: "Five carnival workers are kidnapped and held hostage in an abandoned, Hell-like compound where they are forced to participate in a violent game, the goal of which is to survive twelve hours against a gang of sadistic clowns."

Here are some critical comments, from IMDB.com's user comments section:

—"There isn't really too much to write about Rob Zombie's latest film, in fact. Either you're a fan of extreme and relentless violence and '31' is a must-see for you, or you'll completely detest the film for its lack of plot, character background, style or overall lack of taste."

—"All in all Zombie has made this fan very happy when it hits theaters will make all his fans happy but I don't think critics will like it then again most of the greatest horror movies of all time were hated by critics initially so don't let that stop you from watching this flick!"

After reading that second comment, I thought: Perfect. Yes, sometimes I do pray for America. 

No, 5 Seconds of Summer hasn’t been banned

Calm down, kids. The Australian boy band 5 Seconds of Summer has not been banned from future performances at the Spokane Arena.

The band played to about 4,000 very enthusiastic fans on Tuesday night.  Near the end of the set, drummer Ashton Irwin twice called fans down from their seats and urged them to fill the floor. The problem with that, said arena manager Matt Gibson, is that having too many people on the floor is not only dangerous, but it creates “a bad fire marshal situation where we have the floor over capacity.” When arena staff kept people in their seats, the mostly teenage fans were not happy.

Fans turned to social media to vent their frustrations.

Twitter user castaway (@fivesosaf101) wrote “just gained so much respect for @5SOS putting their fans first and telling them to fill the floor. #SLFLSPOKANE

There are others: 
5sos are such legends for bringing fans onto the floor and getting banned from the venue in spokane
 5sos got banned from spokane for doing a nice thing for the fans? that's ridiculous. i'm so proud of them for doing this for us
 5SOS being banned from Spokane just adds to the list of proofs that they love their fans so much.


And as one father, Clark Peterson, posted on Facebook – a post that has been shared multiple times on Twitter – “I’m sure the boys in the band will get a talking to from their lawyers, but it was the most rock and roll thing I’ve seen at a rock concert in a long, long time. Rock and roll isn’t dead, it lives with a bunch of Aussie boys!”

Irwin himself tweeted: “I always just want the fans too be as close as possible… The concerts are about you. Always. Rock on”

In fact, Gibson said, 5 Seconds of Summer’s security staff had briefed the arena folks earlier in the day, and asked the crew to keep fans safe. “Our staff did exactly what they were supposed to do in their professional manner and held people into their seating sections,” Gibson said. “Young people being as they are, and I have two daughters, so I know how dramatic situations escalate, a lot of tears and a lot of screaming resulted.”

But in the end, Gibson said, 5 Seconds of Summer’s security team thanked the arena crew for doing its job.

“It was a situation in which we were faced with a very difficult situation,” he said. “We want everyone to have a good time, but all that would have needed to happen is one young lady trip on the stairs and she gets trampled by three dozen other kids rushing the stage.”

And contrary to rumors on social media, 5 Seconds of Summer hasn’t been banned from future appearances at Spokane Arena.

“We would be more than happy to have them back,” Gibson said.

Weekend getaway: Halcyon Hot Springs

Several years ago, I would on occasion write a Getaway piece for The Spokesman-Review. The story would usually involve some place local that SR readers could visit for a quick … well, getaway.

 Which is exactly what my wife and I did Sunday and Monday. We drove six hours north, past Castlegar and Nakusp, British Columbia, to a resort called Halcyon Hot Springs. We rented a cabin, ate two nights at the resort restaurant, spent a lot of time soaking in the pools (there are four of them) and, in general, just relaxed.

 The resort, which fronts Upper Arrow Lake, has a number of rental choices, from chalets to cabins (ours was perfectly adequate for two of us, and it boasted a TV, a refrigerator and coffee fixings, though no kitchenette) to camping areas.

 The four pools includes a regular swimming pool (86 degrees), a hot pool (99 degrees), a hotter pool (104 degrees), and a cold-plunge pool (58 degrees). Guests get free access, including robes and towels, but outside access is available for a fee.

 The on-site eatery, the King Fisher Restaurant, offers a decent range of dishes, all appealing to our non-foodie palates. The above photo captures our Monday night meal, beef bavette in the foreground, roast lamb in the rear (served with an interesting veggie medley). And the wine made everything taste even better.

 (Our only complaint: Despite having called ahead to make a reservation, we were sat on Sunday next to the kitchen. We fixed that the next night by eating earlier.)

 On Monday afternoon, we drove 30 kilometers to the atmospheric little town of Nakusp. We checked out the Nakusp Hot Springs, ate lunch at the historic Leland Hotel, walked along the town’s boardwalk and enjoyed a post-lunch coffee at What’s Brewing on Broadway.

 I’m always amazed at the scenery in British Columbia. It rivals anyplace I’ve seen in the world, including New Zealand. And to think, it sits just a few hours drive north.

I’ll definitely be back.

Friday’s openings: Lighthouses and sci-fi mysteries

I've been on somewhat of a winning streak with movies of late, thanks to filmmakers such as Werner Herzog and Mike Birbiglia. Let's hope the coming week offers cinema half as enjoyable. Friday's opening movies are as follows:

"The Light Between Oceans": Based on the novel by M.L. Stedman, director Derek Cianfrance tells the story of an Australian lighthouse keeper and his wife who save a baby that washes up on shore, raise it as their own only to discover that their happiness is someone else's tragedy. Bring a hanky or three.

"Morgan": A young girl, "bioengineered with synthetic DNA," rebels against her corporate captors. Bad things happen. (See: "Ex Machina.")

"The 9th Life of Louis Drax": After suffering a near-fatal fall, a comatose boy becomes the center of a mystery that is at least as engaging as the film's title. Bring a sense of wonder.

Still no word on the Magic Lantern. I'll update as needed.

‘Kubo’ surpasses Vinton’s visual legacy

Family films have always tried to balance their appeal between two audiences: children and the parents who drive (and often accompany) them to the show. As I try to make clear in my review of the stop-action film "Kubo and the Two Strings," which I wrote for Spokane Public Radio, director Travis Knight does a decent job of hitting both groups:

Stop-action animation has come a long way in the past four decades. And though, yes, stop-action has been around for far longer than that – if nothing else, remember the 1950s cartoon character “Gumby” – it was the year 1974 that changed everything.

That was the year that a guy from Portland, Oregon, named Will Vinton submitted a little 8-minute film, a claymation effort he titled “Closed Mondays,” to the Cannes Film Festival. Not only was the film accepted, but it went on to win an Oscar for Best Animated Short.

Vinton would enjoy other successes, too, not least of which was the ad campaign for The California Raisins. But by the late ’90s, Vinton’s company had run into financial trouble, and Vinton himself was eventually bought out by Nike co-founder Phil Knight – and eventually replaced.

His replacement? Knight’s son Travis. But if nepotism so often can be considered a bad word, it can – at least sometimes – lead to good things. And a few of the good things that the new company, now called Laika, provided were the films “Coraline,” “ParaNorman,” “The Box Trolls” and, now, a fictional tale from old Japan, “Kubo and the Two Strings.”

Using a blend of stop-action and computer-enhanced animation, Knight’s “Kubo” follows the story of a young boy whom we first meet as his mother is fleeing her past. We come to know him as a boy with magical talents, his skills as a storyteller matched by his abilities to strum his three-stringed shamisen and make paper origami figures fly. We also know him as a caretaker, watching over his mother in a remote, ocean-side cave.

Finally, we see him step into the role of burgeoning hero, a boy – protected by a magic monkey and a samurai beetle – charged with finding the three pieces of his lost father’s armor, the only charms that will protect him from his grandfather, the Moon King. In his quest, Kubo has to endure attacks from his two aunts, his mother’s sisters and witches who are doing the Moon King’s bidding.

From the movie’s first line – “If you’re going to blink, do it now” – to its last, “Kubo and the Two Strings” demonstrates well just how far stop-action animation has progressed, even since the early days of Vinton. Using many of the same techniques, which are featured during the movie’s closing credits, Knight smoothes out the process with Laika’s CGI to make the character movements far less jerky.

That, of course, isn’t all. These days, the company can afford to hire A-list talent, which is why Charlize Theron voices the monkey , Matthew McConaughey the beetle, Ralph Fiennes the Moon King and Rooney Mara as the sister witches.

Most impressive to me, though, is Art Parkinson, the 14-yar-old “Game of Thrones” star who gives voice to our protagonist – and who, even at his most heroic, never lets us forget that Kubo is still a boy.

Will Vinton’s company is no more. But the legacy he created lives on, in a film that could next March win its own gold statuette.

‘Closed Mondays’ is grandfather to ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’

In researching the background of the Portland-based film production company Laika, I stumbled onto a story about Will Vinton, the Portland guy who founded the company that Laika grew out of. The overall story, which runs under the headline "How the Father of Claymation Lost His Company," is a standard tale of a talented guy with big dreams who let things get away from him.

It's also about how a guy with lots of money (Nike's Phil Knight) bought an ailing company both as an investment and as a place for his talented son (Travis Knight) to work. That investment has resulted in such films as "Coraline," "ParaNorman," "The Box Trolls" and now "Kubo and the Two Strings."

After having seen "Kubo," and being impressed by its blend of stop-action and computer-enhanced animation, I was particularly interested in seeing "Closed Mondays," the 8-minute-long, 1974 claymation film that won Vinton an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film (embedded below).

 And I was interested to learn that Vinton's first submission, to a local Portland film festival, earned him a rejection. As the story points out, "within two minutes, the film was outright rejected. 'The judge didn’t even screen it,' recalls Vinton. 'It just wasn’t his cup of tea, or whatever.' "

Take a look and judge for yourself. And then consider how far stop-action has come in 42 years.

Movie lesson No. 1: Be your own critic

The notion that everyone's a critic is undebatable. We all make judgments of one sort of another, otherwise we'd never have the ability to make a decision about anything.

This applies particularly to moviegoing. With movie prices sitting in the $10 range, $14 or more for 3D and Dolby, such decisions are increasingly important.

But movie criticism is a kind of art, one that depends on temperament, personal biases and knowledge. To make intelligent moviegoing critiques, it helps to have seen a lot of movies, to have a discerning temperament and to have the ability to recognize personal prejudices and see past them — or at the very least to admit them.

Given all this, it's no wonder that critics exhibit a range of opinions, even about the same movie.

Example: the movie "Anthropoid," which is ending its run at AMC River Park Square on Thursday. The World War II move is based on a real incident, which involved the 1942 assassination of SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, and has been receiving lukewarm reviews. The website Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 57 percent Tomatometer critics rating (73 percent among regular moviegoers).

But even in their disagreements, some critics find different things about the movie to love and/or hate. Contrast the three following responses:

James Berardinelli, ReelViews: "The movie builds - something infinitely preferable to a bold, brash beginning followed by a descent into anti-climax."

Joe McGovern, Entertainment Weekly: "Though Anthropoid lacks narrative ambition, the film justifies its reason for being thanks to a devastating final half-hour."

Linda Barnard, Toronto Star: "(T)he story … feels leaden and burdened by a false ending."

In other words, two like the ending and one does not.

This is why it's best to read as many reviews as you can, to get as complete a view of a film as possible. For me, I like this commentary, which offers a note of caution to all casting directors:

Marsha Lederman, Globe and Mail: "While it's easy to sneer at the romantic subplot, it serves to humanize the characters and convey their intense fear. Otherwise we know too little about them — beyond the fact they are all impossibly good-looking."

Who among any of your friends and family is "impossible good-looking"? The lesson, which Hollywood fails to learn time and again: Eye-candy is a great diversion, but it doesn't always serve a dramatic story.

Below: "Nerve" is another movie that is ending its run on Thursday.

Indie rock showcase Bartfest canceled

Bartfest, the Bartlett’s annual music festival that was scheduled for the first weekend of October, has been canceled. The venue’s owners, Caleb and Karli Ingersoll, announced its cancellation on Facebook today, citing a lack of ticket sales.

“Canceling is definitely a self-protective move,” they wrote. “If people don’t buy tickets, our venue is put at risk because festivals are based on guarantees only and not percentages of ticket sales.”

Bartfest had struggled with attendance issues in the past. Last year, Karli Ingersoll told The Spokesman-Review that the festival had been downsized, both in lineup size and admission price, to attract bigger crowds.

“We’ve already pre-sold almost more than what we sold over the whole festival last year,” she said in 2015.

In what was to be its third year, Bartfest 2016 boasted a lineup that included such acts as Beat Connection, Tangerine, White Reaper and Soft Sleep. Twin Peaks and TOPS, two of the festival’s scheduled bands, will still perform in Spokane on Oct. 1, and tickets are currently available for those shows.

“Bartfest may re-emerge at some point, but for now we are going to focus on what we feel the most confident in – bringing in really great bands weekly and giving them a great space to play in,” the Ingersolls wrote.

All purchased festival passes will be refunded.

Friday’s openings redux: Not just comedy

And as we finalize the week's movie openings, let's add two more films to the list:

"Don't Think Twice": Mike Birbiglia ("Sleepwalk With Me") wrote and directed this look at the New York comedy scene and the hilarious but cut-throat atmosphere surrounding it. Starring Birbiglia, Gillian Jacobs and Keegan-Michael Key. It's all right … to laugh.

"Ignacio de Loyola": This historical drama is based on the memoirs of St. Ignatius of Loyola, former soldier and founder of the Jesuit order. And, no, he didn't play basketball.

See the real ‘True Grit’ tonight at the Garland

Though he was nominated twice for an Oscar, John Wayne was never much of an actor. Rather, he was a screen icon, one of those performers who imbued a role with the force of his personality. Though he'd made some 70 films previously, the true power of that force became obvious in the first film he ever starred in, John Ford's 1939 Western "Stagecoach."

Wayne was known for two types of film: Westerns and war movies. Thanks to his relationship with Ford and other directors (Howard Hawks among them), he was part of — and mostly the main attraction of — such Western classics as "Red River," "3 Godfathers," "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," "Rio Bravo" and "The Searchers."

As for war films, Wayne was first nominated for an Oscar for Allan Dwan's 1949 effort "Sands of Iwo Jima." Wayne can be seen also in "The Fighting Seabees," "Back to Bataan," "They Were Expendable" and a film he directed himself, "The Alamo" (which received a nomination for Best Picture).

So many notable performance, so few honors — except, of course, for fame and wealth.

And then "True Grit" came along. When he broke character to play the drunken lawman Rooster Cogburn in Henry Hathaway's adaptation of Charles Portis' novel, Wayne displayed a comic side that thrilled audiences. And the Motion Picture Academy. In a year that saw acting nominations for Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole, Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman, Wayne — the sentimental favorite — won the little gold statuette.

In "True Grit," which co-starred Kim Darby, Glen Campbell, Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper, Wayne stars as Cogburn, who is hired by the intrepid Mattie Ross (Darby) to find the man who murdered her father. The film's climax features one of the great showdowns, which includes one of Wayne's signature lines of dialogue (see embed below).

You'll have the opportunity to see Wayne at 7:15 tonight at the Garland Theater. "True Grit" will screen as part of the theater's Summer Camp 2016 series. (Note: This is NOT the 2010 remake, which was directed by the Coen brothers and stars Jeff Bridges.)

Billing itself as "Spokane’s Only Independent Encore Theatre," the Garland charges $2.50 for admission.

Inexpensive tickets and John Wayne starring in a Western. That's almost as good as an Oscar right there.

All Luddites: DVDs are cheaper than ever

Technology is changing faster than we can take advantage of it. From being able to see movies only in theaters, to being able to see them on film in your own home, to seeing them on VCRs, then laserdiscs and DVD players (upgrading to Blu-ray) and now online streaming, etc., the life of a movie fan has progressed in ways we once thought immeasurable.

Certain aspects of the progression linger on, of course. While some of us still own VCRs, and the aging tapes that feed them, far more common are DVDs and Blu-Ray. That their time is passing, though, is obvious with the closing of such businesses as, most recently, Hastings — not to mention why DVDs and Blu-ray were being sold for discount prices in the years before Hastings' decline.

But you can find deals on such products elsewhere. Turner Classic Movies, for example, is offering some 125,000 classic movies and TV series on DVD and Blu-ray. Movies such as "Singing' in the Rain" and "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," TV series such as "The Rockford Files" and "The Andy Griffith Show."

You can order from TCM online here, over the phone by calling 1-888-982-6746 or by mail or fax through the company catalog. The bargains are pretty good.

However you do it, enjoy. If using old technology doesn't earn you the title of Luddite now, it will sometime soon.