7 Blog

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

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?)

‘Ida” relives a dark part of Polish history

In the spring of 2002, my wife spent the semester teaching law at a university in Lublin, Poland. I went over with her, then returned near the end to help her pack to come home. During our time together, we learned a lot about Polish life, both present and past. What we learned helped me put the movie “Ida” — which is playing at the Magic Lantern — in perspective. And I used the perspective in the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio, a transcription of which follows:

When the late-spring sun warms the streets of Lublin, life in the southeastern Polish city begins to resemble what we Americans think of as normal European life. As the outdoor cafes gradually open, you can even find a decent cup of coffee – the perfect antidote to a night of drinking some of the best beer made outside of Germany and the Czech Republic.

Sitting there, caught up in the glow of Lublin’s charm, you would hardly suspect that, just outside the city’s center sits what’s left of one of World War II’s most horrific legacies: the Majdanek death camp. During its years of operation between 1941 and ’44, tens of thousands of Jews, non-Jewish Poles, Soviet prisoners of war and various other groups were murdered in and around Majdanek, either worked to death, starved, shot or gassed in one of the camp’s three killing chambers.

If the 20th-century taught us anything, it’s that we all too easily forget – or, for that matter, ignore – the horrors of war, especially when the sun is shining and a cappuccino sits steaming before us. And that is one reason why it’s important to pay tribute to films such as “Ida,” Polish writer-director Pawel Pawlikowski’s study of a young woman on the verge of taking her final vows as a nun.

The other main reason, of course, is because Pawlikowski’s filmmaking skills make him as much of an artist as a storyteller. The story he chooses to tell is set in 1962 and begins in the convent where our devout young protagonist is directed, prior to donning her nun’s habit, to connect with her only living relative. That relative is the very aunt who had refused to answer, over the years, the convent’s repeated messages on behalf of the girl.

Gradually, we discover why the aunt, a 40-something judge and former prosecutor, has refused any contact with Ida AND why she has allowed her life to become a tedious string of judicial proceedings, bouts of heavy drinking and one-night stands. The answers involve deep, dark family secrets that come to light when aunt and niece embark on a road trip to discover the grave sites of Ida’s parents – secrets that exemplify the countless examples of inhumane actions that are all too common during war.

Pawlikowski underscores the tragic sense of his screenplay by choosing to shoot in black and white. And what in other circumstances might seem like a preciously artistic choice serves a clear function here: The Poland of “Ida” seems every bit the gloomy underworld it must have been during those harsh decades under communism. This atmosphere contrasts well with the film’s calm pacing and perfectly framed shots that, taken individually, might qualify for inclusion in a MOMA photo exhibit.

The end result is a film that stands both as a work of art and a tribute to those lost souls buried in woods far darker than the late-spring sun could ever penetrate.

Hope the critics are wrong about ‘The Rover’

One of Friday's movie openings that I've been looking forward to is “The Rover,” which was written and directed by Australian filmmaker David Michôd. I was a big fan of Michôd's 2010 film “Animal Kingdom,” which is a based-on-real-events story about cops and criminals in Melbourne, and the trailers for “The Rover” look good.

But some serious critics — and by that I mean legitimate critics whose opinions I respect — are having reservations. Here are some of their comments:

Ty Burr, Boston Globe: “(W)hile the movie is consistently watchable, its attempt to create a parched existential landscape where all that matters is what you do or who you kill ultimately seems pretty thin.”

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: “The movie's overall cast of gloom - no one here has cracked a smile in years - contributes to a leaden aura.”

A.O. Scott, New York Times: “The contours of this desolate future are lightly sketched rather than fully explained, which is always a good choice. But that minimalism serves as an excuse for an irritating lack of narrative clarity, so that much of what happens seems arbitrary rather than haunting.”

Stephen Whitty, Newark Star-Ledger: “While some of the film's ambiguity is welcome - we're never told why society has fallen apart, it's just a sadly acceptable given that it has - a good deal of it is disappointing.”

Yeah, whatever, I'm still going to go see “The Rover” because it just looks so cool. And since I know Guy Pearce can act, I can't wait to see what the “Twilight” kid adds to the mix.

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