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

Hey, where did all the movie fans go?

Considering how I feel about “Transformers: Age of Extinction” — or as we call it in my house, “Transformers: Interminable” — it should come as no surprise that I failed to recommend it. But my eyes did widen a bit when I read a post on Gawker reporting that this past July 4th weekend was one of the worst for moviegoing in decades.

Even Boxofficemojo.com called it a “very slow Fourth of July weekend,” the slowest since 1999.

A number of reasons were offered, among them the fact that the actual holiday fell on Friday — instead of, say, Thursday — which gave one less day for people to see movies. Also, the weather was pretty good across much of the country (especially in Spokane), which caused many people to seek the sunshine. Etc., etc.

But seriously? The openings — “Tammy” and “Deliver Us From Evil” — couldn't even muster enough box-office power to unseat the latest “Transformers” from the top spot. And Michael Bay's creation itself saw a 63 percent drop from its opening weekend.

So my theory? Hollywood didn't give us anything worth seeing. And who the hell wants to see “Transformers” twice?

Note: Answer to that last question? People in China.

According to Boxofficemojo, “Transformers: Age of Extinction” has earned more than $400 million worldwide, nearly $213 million of that coming from China. Chinese moviegoers ponied up some $51 million this past weekend. Question is: Why?

Well, ignore the obvious (that many young Chinese people with disposable incomes are enjoying prosperity by going to see the same mindless crap as U.S. teens and 20-somethings). Instead, credit Bay for setting much of the second half of his film in Beijing and Hong Kong, thus smarty catering to an Asian audience unused to seeing its big cities — even if they are being destroyed — portrayed in Hollywood blockbusters. He's only doing what other filmmakers (“Pacific Rim,” “Godzilla”) have attempted, but Bay seems to have done it better.

Welcome to globalization, folks.

Fourth ‘Transformers’ has critics on the ropes

According to the box-office reports on Thursday afternoon, the latest Michael Bay creation — “Transformers: Age of Extinction” — had earned some $412 million worldwide ($128 million domestically) in its first week of release. That adds to the total that I cite in the review of the film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio.

What's clear is that, despite an almost universal loathing by critics, people are going to see Bay's movie. It's equally clear that Bay himself think critics can suck on his handycam. Which is great because it absolves me from feeling any guilt at all for labeling his films for what they are. My review follows:

Roberto Duran had fought nearly equally with Sugar Ray Leonard until the closing seconds of the eighth round. But in this, their 1980 welterweight title rematch, things clearly had started going Leonard’s way. And whether because of mere pique – or as he was to claim – stomach cramps, Duran abruptly quit.

The words he uttered then instantly became legend: “No más,” Duran told the referee. “No más.”

I know the feeling. I’ve been watching Michael Bay films since 1995. That’s when the master of all things overblown offered up his first bona-fide feature, “Bad Boys.” That movie’s stylisms – big explosions, quick-cuts contrasting with slo-mo EFX, camera shots that revolve more fully than Regan MacNeil’s head – were a mere preview of what Bay would show us in films such as “The Rock,” “Armageddon,” “Pearl Harbor” and – count ’em – four “Transformers” films.

Bay’s latest release, “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” has been playing for a week. And as I wrote in a Spokane7 blog post, the film is pure Bay: “bigger, louder, longer, worser.”

Why, you ask? For one thing, unless you’ve seen the past films, you’re likely to be lost. Having seen them, though, is no guarantee you’re going to fully understand who, what, when, where or why. The WHO is perhaps the second easiest question to answer: a whole new cast. Mark Wahlberg plays Cade Yeager, a Texas farmer-inventor whose lab skills seem limited to making robotic contraptions that work maybe half the time – when they work at all.

Yeager lives with his 17-year-old daughter (Nicola Peltz), who seems to be the adult in their relationship, though his overprotective attitudes toward her are a major point in WHAT passes for a Bay plot (provided by screenwriter Ehren Kruger). Another plot point involves the Yeager family finances, which are virtually nil – a situation that doesn’t stop daddy from buying a beat-up semi that he finds, improbably, in a movie theater.

This brings us to WHEN, which for the Yeagers and everyone else is some four years after the so-called Battle of Chicago that ended 2011’s “Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon.” The semi that Yeager buys changes everything because it is none other than Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots – alien-transformer-robots that, in the past, have been friendly to humans. That’s changed now, though, because of a dastardly CIA operative (Kelsey Grammer) who, along with a billionaire businessman (Stanley Tucci), is bent on using alien technology both to free humans from all robot dependence – and to make those in power a pretty profit in the process.

The WHERE is whatever place Bay wants to trash – the Yeager farm, Chicago (again), Beijing and, almost lovingly, Hong Kong.

And, finally, WHY did Bay make this fourth “Transformers” (with a fifth already in preproduction)? This is the easiest question of all: Including last weekend, the series has made in excess of $1.17 billion dollars.

Incoherence has never provided a better payday.

No más, por favor, no más.

Hang out with The Dude tonight at The Garland

You can't buy much for $1 anymore. Oh, if you scour the aisles at your local grocery store, or stop by a Dollar Tree location, you can find everything from shampoo to party supplies, all for just that single Washington.

But movies? Not to date myself or anything, but I can remember $.25 movie matinees (which is what I paid one Saturday to see the Charlton Heston version of “Ben-Hur”). These days, though? Even The Garland Theater charges $5 for general admissions anymore ($2.50 on Wednesdays).

Not for select showings during the summer, however. Tonight at 9:30, The Garland will screen the Coen brothers' 1998 film “The Big Lebowski” for the admission price of, yes, $1. In fact, the Garland-area theater is boasting a whole selection of summer showings for that same discounted price.

If you haven't seen “The Big Lebowski,” you should know that it's a typical example of the Coens and their offbeat attitude. Jeff Bridges plays The Dude, a pot-smoking guy who gets mistaken for someone and finds himself involved in a scheme that … well, let's let Roger Ebert explain: “It involves kidnapping, ransom money, a porno king, a reclusive millionaire, a runaway girl, the Malibu police, a woman who paints while nude and strapped to an overhead harness, and the last act of the disagreement between Vietnam veterans and Flower Power. It has more scenes about bowling than anything else.”

First time I saw “The Big Lebowski” I was disappointed. The second time, some 20 years later, I connected with the humor and laughed all the way through. Either way, you're likely to find something about the movie that's entertaining.

Especially for a buck.

Illness behind Allman cancelation

By now, you’ve likely heard that the Gregg Allman show scheduled for the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox on Saturday night has been postponed. No reason was given by the promoter, Square Peg Concerts. However, The Oregonian in Portland – where Allman was scheduled to perform Sunday at the Waterfront Blues Festival – reported that Allman checked into a hospital on Monday.

The Oregonian quoted the Waterfront Blues Festival’s artistic director as saying Allman had canceled the whole solo tour. Allman’s team told the paper they hope to reschedule. There’s been no public announcement as to what prompted Allman’s hospitalization.

Ticket refunds are available at the point of purchase.

 

Paul Mazursky, 1930-2014: Master of the ‘70s

Above: A young Christopher Walken starred in Paul Mazursky's 1976 film “Next Stop, Greenwich Village.”

Paul Mazursky died on Monday.

That likely doesn’t mean much to contemporary moviegoers. No disrespect, but Mazursky – one of the major American filmmakers of the 1970s and ’80s – didn’t make movies that blew stuff up real good. His best movies were explorations of middle-class, often urban life in an era that saw U.S. culture breaking free from 1950s-era “Mad Men” conventions.

More to the point, the 84-year-old Mazursky hadn’t worked much as a movie director since the mid-’90s, choosing instead to act on such television shows as “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

So anyone who didn’t grow up watching Mazursky’s films, as I did, can be forgiven for not recognizing his name.

But if it’s true that artists come along when the time is right, Mazursky was certainly right for the ’70s in particular. That was, most critics would agree, a golden time for American film. And Mazursky’s contributions, as a writer-director, were many.

His first film, 1969’s “Bob & Ted & Carol & Alice” explored the era’s changing sexual mores. His next year’s follow-up, “Alex in Wonderland,” featured Donald Sutherland as a director, fresh off a hit film, who struggles to find either a follow-up project or a larger sense of meaning to his comfortable life.

For Mazursky, in real life, the movie projects kept coming. “Blume in Love” (1973) used the rising popularity of George Segal to tell the story of a guy who, try as he might, can’t let go of his failing marriage. “Harry and Tonto,” a year later, gave us an aging guy going on the road with his cat (and it won a Best Actor Oscar for Art Carney).

“Next Stop, Greenwich Village” (1976) followed a group of young New Yorkers (and features a memorable turn by a young Christopher Walken), while “An Unmarried Woman” (1978) focused on Jill Clayburgh as a privileged New Yorker whose life gets turned upside down when her husband leaves her for a younger woman.

Mazursky worked all through the ’80s, though his work became less and less original. “Tempest” (1982) was heavily influenced by Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest.” “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” was a remake of the 1932 French film “Boudu Saved From Drowning.” In a decade that featured an American president who was a former actor, “Moon Over Parador” (1988) gave Richard Dreyfuss the chance to play an actor doubling for a South American dictator.

That’s only natural. Most filmmakers have a fertile period of creation. Mazursky’s time passed soon enough, but he managed to make a mark on American film.

It’s one that deserves to be remembered.

Have a happy 4th at the cafe of your choice

What with temperatures predicted to be in the upper 80s, and even low 90s, for the holiday weekend, the street sign in front of Atticus says it all. As I write this, the U.S. team is tied 0-0 with Belgum in the quarterfinals of the World Cup. What a nice 238th birthday present that would make — a U.S. victory.

Not sure I have that much faith in American futbol.

Update: And the U.S. loses 2-1 in extra time. Better luck four years from now in Moscow.

Wednesday’s openings: Pies and aliens

Updated post: To include the second run of “Belle” at the Magic Lantern.

Our country celebrates a birthday on Friday. By my reckoning (which is always problematic), this would be the 238th.

Before then, however, something even more important occurs: the week's movie openings, which on this holiday weekend have been moved to Wednesday. Those opening are as follows:

“America”: Conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza imagines a world in which America didn't exist. From the Daily Beast review by Andrew Romano: “I don’t have the space here to dispute every specious point that D’Souza makes in 'America' or highlight every bit of nonsensical sophistry he employs in order to mask the emptiness of his so-called reasoning. But his acrobatically evasive—and borderline idiotic—treatment of slavery should be enough to convince all but the most closed-minded D’Souzaites that the guy is little more than a slick, self-promotional propagandist.” 

“Earth to Echo”: An extraterrestrial uses a bunch of preteens to help it find a way home. Uh, sound familiar? Somebody call Steven Spielberg.

“Tammy”: A husbandless, jobless Melissa McCarthy hits the road with her grandmother — and becomes a notorious pie thief.

“Deliver Us From Evil”: Based on actual paranormal cases investigated by a now-retired NYPD officer. Oh, and guess who is hawking a book about his so-called “based-on-the-real-story” experiences?

And at the Magic Lantern (which opens nothing until Friday):

“Snowpiercer”: Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho wrote and directed this post-apocalyptic tale about the last of humanity riding a super-powered train around the world. Think the “Hunger Games” meets “The Orient Express.”

“Belle”: A mixed-race woman faces 18th-century British prejudice while being raised by her aristocratic relatives. Based on a real person, though the really interesting thing about this movie project can her found by clicking here (it concerns screenplay credit).

You can’t miss with Clinkerdagger halibut cheeks

My wife receives e-mails on occasion from Clinkerdagger, the longtime, river-view eatery located in the Flour Mill. That happens when you sign up for the restaurant's Eat, Drink & Earn Club. And I'm so glad she did.

I used to go to Clinkerdagger regularly during the 1980s, when it was one of the few upscale dining choices Spokane had to offer. But with those choices having grown in recent years, I hadn't returned.

Until Friday when, following news included in an e-mail, we headed over to eat some Halibut Cheeks. What you see in the photo above is a split order, which fit our lunch appetites perfectly (I opened with a bowl of clam chowder, my wife a salad).

And what was our reaction? We almost ordered more.

Almost.

My advice: Go get some while you can.

Relatively speaking, ‘Jersey Boys’ is a hit

I've never been a big Broadway musical guy. I've seen my share, both on Broadway and off. “Rent,” which I liked. “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” which I thought was OK. And, of course, I've seen so many movie adaptations, from “”42nd Street” to “West Sdie Story” to “Hairspray” and so on.

So I wasn't really looking forward to “Jersey Boys,” even if it was directed by Clint Eastwood. But I was pleasantly surprised, which I reveal in the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio. A transcription of the review follows:

Judging Broadway musicals takes an adroit critical hand. It’s not as if you can hold, say, “Phantom of the Opera” to the same standards as “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Looking for a similar sense of quality within such contrasting theatrical productions is tricky.

Truth is, you have to adjust your perspective. And relativity is key. You have to compare “Phantom of the Opera” with, say, “Jersey Boys.” And in movie terms, at least, that means weighing the weepy feeling that strikes you when Gerard Butler sings “The Music of the Night” against whatever you feel when John Lloyd Young sings “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”

Young, of course, is the actor who plays Frankie Valli in Clint Eastwood’s movie version of “Jersey Boys,” the show that won the 2006 Tony Award. Adapted by original authors Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, “Jersey Boys” is a period-piece study of the multi-hit ’60s-era singing group The Four Seasons. And if I sound muted in my appreciation for Young’s singing, it’s no reflection on his abilities. It’s just that I’m not confident that everyone today shares my affection for a group that was churning out hit songs when I was just approaching adolescence.

Again, I’m speaking here about relativity. I won’t argue that “Jersey Boys” is a great film. In a certain sense, it’s no different from any other hard-road-to-success picture that has been made about singers from Al Jolson to Billie Holiday, Ray Charles to Johnny Cash. We have the rough beginnings, kids in urban New Jersey caught between crime and their dream of making it as entertainers. Next comes the break: They find a sound and a competent producer and, fairly quickly, make it big. Then come the complications: Being blindsided by all the problems that come with too much, too soon – while life goes on and on. Finally, we arrive at the resolution, which is as glossed over as any shiny new LP in its pristine packaging.

But melodramatic shine is all part of what makes Broadway, and maybe the best thing that director Eastwood has achieved with his “Jersey Boys” is to have given us something that strikes a balance between that stagey glow and the greater sense of authenticity that the movie screen demands. Yes, Eastwood does have a good cast to work with: Young has the Valli-like pipes, if not quite the acting chops, to play our lead singer. Yet Vincent Piazza as tough-guy Tommy DeVito, Erich Bergen as a winking Bob Gaudio and a Mike Doyle as producer Bob Crewe carry enough swagger for any movie.

And even as that cast walks through a movie world that, for the most part, is set clearly on a studio backlot, Eastwood misdirects us by keeping his movie moving, by having various cast members address the audience directly and by always using that memorable music to enhance our emotions.

Seeing “Jersey Boys” isn’t exactly like time-traveling back to 1960. But if I close my eyes, it’s as close as I can come.

Bing’s getting a case of the blues

Walking to work the other morning, I noticed the marquee at the Bing Crosby Theater had a case of the blues.

Blues as in Eric Bibb, Jonny Lang and Robert Cray.

Bibb, an acclaimed acoustic blues-roots singer-songwriter, will visit the Bing on July 9. Up next is Jonny Lang, the one-time child prodigy who released his first record at age 14. He’ll bring his gospel-infused blues rock to town on Aug. 7.

Then there’s Robert Cray. The blues legend from Tacoma, the guy who cut his teeth in the Eugene blues scene of the 1970s (along with fellow Northwest blues pioneer Curtis Salgado) will play the Bing on Aug. 11.

Of course, while Cray has won Grammys and sold millions of records, his place in pop culture history was cemented with his uncredited performance as the bass player for Otis Day & the Knights in 1978’s “Animal House.” Check out the famous “Shout” scene here:

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Tickets for all three shows are on sale now through TicketsWest, (800) 325-SEAT or online here.

 

He was ‘Ugly,’ but Wallach had lots to say

In an earlier post, I noted that Eli Wallach had died on Tuesday. And I mentioned, while giving a brief rundown of his career, that one of my favorite Wallach performances came in 1960’s “The Magnificent Seven.”

He portrayed the Mexican bandit chief Calvera, who is as quotable as he is ruthless in how he handles the peasants he preys on – until seven American hired guns stop him.

About those very peasants, Calvera says, “If God didn't want them sheared, he would not have made them sheep.”

What does he say when he discovers that the peasants have hired the Americans? “Generosity… that was my first mistake. I leave these people a little bit extra, and then they hire these men to make trouble. It shows you, sooner or later, you must answer for every good deed.”

And his dying speech to Yul Brynner’s character Chris shows just how little he understands why these seven Americans would risk their lives for one, unimportant Mexican village: “You came back - for a place like this. Why? A man like you. Why?”

As should be obvious when you consider that Wallach died at age 98, and had been working in movies since 1956, he played plenty of roles. So I’ve collected a number of other good quotes.

From “Baby Doll (1956), in which he plays the Italian businessman Silva Vacarro. In response to Carroll Baker’s blithe statement about her husband’s sexual frustration, Vacarro says, “Mrs. Meighan your husband sweats more than any man I know and now I can understand why.”

From “The Misfits” (1961), in which he plays the pilot Guido. To Marilyn Monroe’s character, Guido says, “You have the gift for life, Rosylyn. The rest of us, we're just looking for a place to hide and watch it all go by.”

From “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1965), in which he plays “Ugly” Tuco. Offering a general view of life, he says, “There are two kinds of spurs, my friend. Those that come in by the door; those that come in by the window.”

“How to Save a Marriage and Ruin Your Life” (1968), in which he plays Harry Hunter. To Stella Stevens’ character, he says, “But there's an opening in merchandise, and you have character, integrity, and principle. It'd be interesting to see if an executive could survive with such handicaps.”

So many movies, so many quotes. These have just been a few of Eli Wallach's.

Eli Wallach, 1915-2014: At home on stage and screen

Eli Wallach died Tuesday. That may not mean much to many contemporary moviegoers, much less fans of the theater. But the fact is, Wallach had ties both with some of the greatest talents who have worked in both arenas.

In the mid-20th-century New York theater world, Wallach performed in a number of plays by such writers as Tennessee Williams, Jean Anouilh and Eugene Ionesco. I particularly liked his work in a 1971 Public Television production of Clifford Odets play “Paradise Lost.”

But it's Wallach's performance in movies that should prove most memorable. His performance in Sergio Leone's “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” for one. But especially his role as the Mexican bandit leader Calvera, in John Sturges' 1960 Western “The Magnificent Seven.”

Click on the embed below to see the great Wallach in action (sorry, but you'll have to suffer through an ad before the clip plays):

Friday’s openings: Bay ‘Transforms’ your weekend

Whenever I try to make a point about overstuffed, overhyped Hollywood product, I like to mention Michael Bay. As in, “Michael Bay has never met a special effect he wouldn't abuse.” Or, “Michael Bay has a simple filmmaking formula: Bigger, louder, longer, worser.” You get the point.

But — and there's always a but, right? — I was a sucker for the original “Transformers.” The one with Shia LeBeouf, Megan Fox and the parents played by Kevin Dunn and Julie White. To me it had the perfect blend of humor, excitement and EFX-laden action. Even so, Bay could never let things alone. So we had “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” and, on Friday, “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”

And each has been less funny, less personal and less enjoyable. Or, better, more intense, more action-oriented, more Baylike.

Anyway, that sets the tone for this weekend's releases, which are as follows:

“Transformers: Age of Extinction” (all formats, including IMAX 3D): Mark Wahlberg buys a truck that turns out to be Optimus Prime. What, didn't he check the CARFAX?

“Obvious Child”: A 20-something comic finds herself pregnant and, at least for pop-movie purposes, makes an unusual decision. Not everyone's likely to laugh.

“For No Good Reason”: A documentary about the artist Ralph Steadman, whose work is most associated with the late writer Hunter S. Thompson. Gonzo lives on.

And at the Magic Lantern? Spokane's alternative movie theater continues “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Fed Up,” “Lucky Them” and “Ida.” Look for “Snowpiercer” to open on July 4.

Summer’s a good time to blend books and food

Looking for a cultural event to attend tonight? Probably. So if you want to blend a bit of restaurant life with literary manners, show up at Auntie's Bookstore at 7 p.m. to hear Seattle author/restaurateur Molly Wizenberg read from her memoir, “Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Marriage.”

For more information on Wizenberg, go to her blog here.

And make sure to buy something. Auntie's can use the support.

Not everything in Hollywood goes as planned

Note: This is an edited post. You'll have to access the website I've referred to by yourself: The URL is http://goo.gl/AGr5Ix (just pick it up and paste it in a new window).

It's easy to think that movies happen by plan. And considering how much money is usually involved, they pretty much do. But the best laid plans, etc., oft go awry on a movie set. And at least in some cases, those mistakes actually have improved the final product. Following are six examples, courtesy of Cracked.com:

6, Viggo Mortenson's pain in “The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.”

5, John Malkovich's mugging in “Being John Malkovich.”

4, Daniel Craig's beach scene in “Casino Royale.”

3, The lineup scene in “The Usual Suspects.”

2, Lenny Montana's performance in “The Godfather.”

1, Dustin Hoffman's street scene in “Midnight Cowboy.”

Of all these sets, the one I'd most want to be on was No. 3. (Who is Keyser Soze, anyway?)

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