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

SpIFF 2016 update: Becker ‘unlikely’

Update to my post regarding Friday's "Vision Quest" screening at the 2016 Spokane International Film Festival: As noted below, news has come that the 1985 film's director, Harold Becker, is — according to festival co-director Pete Porter — "unlikely" to attend the show. However, both star Matthew Modine and author Terry Davis (author of the book on which the movie was based) are scheduled to be there.

For a full SpIFF schedule, click here.

SpIFF 2016: Go on a ‘Vision Quest’

Note: The following post has been updated to reflect a change in "Vision Quest" director Harold Becker's status.

For the second time, the Spokane International Film Festival — or SpIFF, as we like to call it — is going on a vision quest. Or, rather, a "Vision Quest."

Four years ago, SpIFF presented a special showing of Harold Becker's 1985 film, which was adapted from Terry Davis' novel and — as with the novel — was set in Spokane. The film played at The Garland Theater and attracted a full house.

On Friday, the 2016 version of SpIFF will kick off at 7:30 p.m. at the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox with a second screening of "Vision Quest." Friday's program, which will be hosted by Spokane author Jess Walter, will include personal appearances by author Davis and star Matthew Modine; director Becker, though originally scheduled to appear, is doubtful.

But that's just a small portion of what SpIFF 2016 has to offer. Festgoers will have access to shorts and features from all over the world, plus special filmmaker visits and opening and closing parties. For a full schedule lineup, click here.

This year, most films will screen at the Magic Lantern (the two houses boasting 100 and 33 seats respectively). So be sure to buy your tickets or passes as soon as you can (click here). You don't want to get left out.

What kind of a vision quest would that be?

Nelson’s blog is a Norse God’s daydream

The weather is getting warmer, slowly, which some of us appreciate. Many others of us dream longingly of snow-covered slopes. John Nelson is one of those who loves to strap sticks on his feet and fly down icy hillsides.

And sometimes, the feeling that such activity gives him goes right to his head. And his ego.

That much is clear from his latest blog post, which you can access by clicking here.

Seattle-based John, who once worked with me at The Spokesman-Review (and who is married to food writer Leslie Kelly), writes in a knowing but easy-to-access manner. His stuff is worth checking out even if you're like me …

… someone who thinks snow is the one thing keeping me from hitting golf balls off the underlying grass.

Friday’s openings: Two to add to the list

And so we have two additions to Friday's opening movies (to see the original list, click here):

"Jane Got a Gun": It's 1864, and when a rancher (Natalie Portman) is threatened by outlaws, she reaches out to a former flame (Joel Edgerton). Can you spell S-H-A-N-E?

"Caged No More": When a woman's two granddaughters are kidnapped, she seeks help to battle a band of human traffickers. Beware an angry granny.

That's it so far. Enjoy.

Friday’s openings: Pandas and satire and shorts, oh my

Animation, high-seas adventure, satire and shorts are on the movie menu for Friday's openings. The scheduled openings are as follows:

"Kung Fu Panda 3": Our stout title character (Jack Black) and friends return to face new challenges, a number of them food-related.

"The Finest Hours": Based on a true story, a Coast Guard crew seeks to save sailors battling a big storm and sinking ships. Don't look for George Clooney.

"Fifty Shades of Black": A satire of the film that many people consider satire all by itself.

And at the Magic Lantern:

The Oscar-nominated Live-Action short films: Short films from all over the world, including the first Oscar-nominated film ever from Kosovo.

I'll update if anything changes. Until then, go. See a film. Have fun.

Aldean, Church, Urban headline Watershed

Jason Aldean, Eric Church and Keith Urban are on the bill as the annual Watershed country music festival at the Gorge Amphitheatre expands to two weekends for 2016, July 29-31 and Aug. 5-7.

Best things? Fans won't have to choose to see one act over another, or pay to see both weekends. Aldean, Church and Urban will be at both. As will music legend Merle Haggard, not to mention Travis Tritt, Neal McCoy and Kacey Musgraves.

Passes go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday through watershedfest.com, where you can go for additional information on performers and the experience. Weekend passes are $199. This show typically sells out in minutes, so if you want to go, don't delay.

Friday’s openings: Bad Grandpa and troubled teens

The big news involving Friday's movie openings is that the Oscar-nominated film "Mustang" is opening at the Magic Lantern. The larger list of scheduled openings is as follows:

"The Boy": The new nanny is confused when her family treats a boy doll as if he were real. Ooooooooooh.

"Dirty Grandpa": Robert DeNiro is the lead character, an elderly man intent on teaching his button-downed grandson (Zac Efron) a few things before he settles down to get married. Guess what happens next?

"The 5th Wave": Alien have attacked Earth in four waves. A young girl (Chloe Grace Moritz) tries to save her younger brother as the fifth attack commences. Where's Will Smith when we need him?

And at the Magic Lantern:

"Mustang": A posse of Turkish teen girls face the consequences when their bid for independence is countered by their conservative parents. France's Oscar-nominated entry for Best Foreign Language Film.

I'll update/amend as more information becomes available.

The Oscars: Rocky times are coming

Amid the many commentaries bemoaning the snubs committed by the Motion Picture Academy with its just-released Oscar nominations, one major theme has emerged: the fact that the overall pool of nominees is overwhelmingly white.

Now, whether this is because of racism, because of poor marketing or because there just weren't enough quality minority performances to warrant an Oscar — I mean, really, did anyone think "Straight Outta Compton" was going to appeal to Academy members? — is up for debate. In fact, the answer might be found in a blend of the three (and even more) possible reasons mentioned above.

One of the best looks at the situation was printed in the New York Times. It's a three-way discussion between Manhola Dargis, A.O. Scott and Wesley Morris, and it is full of intelligent, sometimes passionate, observations about the contemporary film industry, the state of U.S. race relations, the politics of the 6,000-plus-member Academy, and the audience that today's movies play to.

And one thing is sure: With Chris Rock set as host, this coming Academy Awards show should be awfully fun to watch.

‘The Revenant’: Immerse yourself in cinema

If you haven't yet seen "The Revenant," you might consider taking a deep breath … and then going. Such intense filmgoing experiences don't come along every day. Anyway, following is a transcription of the film review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu believes in the immersive power of pure cinema. In films such as “Amores Perros,” the Oscar-winning “Birdman” and now “The Revenant,” González Iñárritu doesn’t just create a visual exploration of life. His intention seems more to pull viewers into the very cinematic experience he is presenting.

Based loosely on a true-life survival saga, “The Revenant” tells the story of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a scout for an 1823 party of adventurers in search of beaver pelts. Having survived a murderous attack by a revenge-seeking Indian tribe, upset at the disappearance and presumed kidnapping of a chief’s daughter, the party abandons its riverboat and heads overland. Their hope is to stay ahead of the Indians while carrying as many pelts as possible back to their home trading post.

Not everyone agrees with this tactic, which Glass has proposed to party captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson). Chief among the critics is John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), whose ongoing complaints are aimed at both Glass and his half-Indian son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck). And Fitzgerald’s resentment flowers following one of the film’s most arresting sequences: a bear attack that leaves Glass badly broken and barely alive. Along with the party’s youngest member, Bridger (Will Poulter), Fitzgerald is tasked with attending Glass until he dies. Yet he waits barely a day before attempting to hurry Glass’ demise.

That he doesn’t succeed is what sets the rest of the film’s straightforward plotline in motion: Fitzgerald and an unsuspecting Bridger leave Glass for dead. But Glass will not die easily. As long as he breathes, he will fight. And so he does both, pulling himself across the open, snow-covered plains, through forests and over mountains, braving ice-crusted rivers to snatch food at every opportunity, dodging threats and taking advantage of every odd kindness he can.

All with one intent: to find the men who’d abandoned him, especially the one who killed the single thing Glass had left to love.

González Iñárritu co-wrote “The Revenant” with Mark L. Smith, adapting Michael Punke’s novel. And clearly he had a bigger intention than the subtitle Punke applied to his book: “a Novel of Revenge.” His attempt was to portray a story that, as he has said in interviews, “is beautifully savage, horrendously poetic and epic at the same time.”

Thus the film’s references to Native American spirituality, the themes of lost love, of parent-child connections, of genocide and the enduring human will to survive. In pursuing this thematic potpourri, González Iñárritu takes full advantage of the acting talents of DiCaprio and Hardy in particular, as well as Emmanuel Lubezki’s expressive cinematography, especially during the many scenes of graphic violence that are set against the expanse of nature provided mostly by the wintry Canadian landscapes of Alberta and British Columbia.

And while it’s possible to argue that, fueled by its magical-realistic overtones, “The Revenant” might not fully match González Iñárritu’s ambitions, it’s impossible to deny the visceral, visual power of what he has put on the screen – a power that feels more like you’ve been pulled directly into the screen instead of merely sitting in front of it.

2015’s best films: ‘Movies 101’ has its say

In the 17 years we've been producing "Movies 101" for Spokane Public Radio, we've posted best-films-of-the-year lists. And though the show's principal members have varied over time, we've continued to boost the films that we think were the past year's best efforts.

On Friday's edition of "Movies 101," which airs on KPBX at 6:30 p.m. (on KSFC Saturday at 1 p.m.), we run through our lists. In doing so, we provide ample reasoning for why we include the films we admire — and exclude those we don't. For the sake of brevity, I'll just include the lists here.

First, we have the Top 5 films that reflect our consensus picks (those that showed up on somewhere all three of our lists):

"Spotlight," "Inside Out," "Mad Max: Fury Road," "Sicario" and "Tangerine."

Now, I'll run down our specific lists. You can access the picks that Nathan Weinbender wrote for The Spokesman-Review, including his explanations, by clicking here. But his basic list, in numerical order, follows:

10, "Brooklyn"; 9, "Room"; 8, "The Look of Silence"; 7, "Ex Machina"; 6, "Spotlight"; 5, "Inside Out"; 4, "About Elly"; 3, "Carol"; 2, "Phoenix"; 1, "Mad Max: Fury Road."

And Nathan's honorable mentions (don't judge him too harshly for stretching his list to 14 films): "The Big Short," "Bridge of Spies," "Creed," "The Diary of a Teenage Girl," "The End of the Tour," "It Follows," "The Martian," "Mission Impossible — Rogue Nation," "Queen of Earth," "Sicario," "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," "Tangerine," "The Tribe," "White God."

Next up, Mary Pat Treuthart's list (which she offered in alphabetical order):

"Clouds of Sils Maria," "Inside Out," "The Martian," "The Revenant," "Sicario," "Spotlight," "Tangerine," "Timbuktu," "Trainwreck," "Wild Tales" ("Relatos Salvages").

And Mary Pat's honorable mentions: "The Big Short," "Mad Max: Fury Road," "45 Years," "The Look of Silence," "White God," "The Gift," "Straight Outta Compton," "Phoenix," "Brooklyn," "Red Army."

Now my list:

10, "The Revenant"; 9, "Carol"; 8, "The Martian"; 7, "Tangerine"; 6, "Inside Out"; 5, "Mad Max: Fury Road"; 4, "Sicario"; 3, "The Big Short"; 2, "Brooklyn"; 1, "Spotlight."

And my honorable mentions: "Phoenix," "Room," "The Look of Silence," "The New Girlfriend," "We Come As Friends," "Beasts of No Nation," "Straight Outta Compton," "Steve Jobs," "I'll See You in My Dreams," "Love & Mercy."

Finally, the three of us took about two seconds to agree on our pick for the year's worst movie: Barry Levinson's "Rock the Kasbah."

That's it for 2015. The new year has commenced. The fun never stops.

15th annual Sasquatch Music Festival announces lineup

The lineup of the annual Sasquatch Musical Festival, which has taken over the Gorge Amphitheater every Memorial Day weekend for the last 15 years, has officially been announced.

Some of this year’s headliners include post-punk legends the Cure (who previously headlined in 2008), Florence and the Machine, Disclosure and Alabama Shakes (pictured above). The four-day lineup is rounded out by Sufjan Stevens, Major Lazer, M83, Grimes, A$AP Rocky, Kurt Vile, Purity Ring, Allen Stone, Yo La Tengo, Vince Staples and others.

Though predictions of an appearance by the recently reunited LCD Soundsystem didn’t pan out, the Sasquatch ’16 lineup does boast a number of artists who have made stops at Spokane venues within the last year – Beat Connection, Noah Gunderson, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Telekinesis, Tacocat, Shannon and the Clams, Deep Sea Diver and Joseph are all scheduled to perform.

Festival passes are now on sale at sasquatchfestival.com and cost $350. Daily schedules have yet to be released.

Below: “Ship to Wreck” by Sasquatch headliners Florence and the Machine.

Celebrate Bowie’s legacy with a screening of ‘Labyrinth’

The unexpected death of David Bowie last night has sent shock waves through the entertainment world, and social media has been flooded with acknowledgements of his musical influence and cultural significance.

Bowie was a true rock ‘n’ roll icon, pushing the boundaries of both sound and image, but he also left an indelible impression as an actor, with memorable performances in Nicolas Roeg’s “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ” and Christopher Nolan’s “The Prestige.” (And let’s not forget his riotous cameos in “Zoolander” and on the TV series “Extras.”)

But perhaps his most iconic film work was as Jareth the Goblin King in 1986’s “Labyrinth,” Jim Henson’s dark fantasy that developed a sizable cult following on home video after flopping at the box office. In honor of Bowie’s storied career, the Garland Theater is screening “Labyrinth” tomorrow night at 7 p.m., and admission is just $2.50. Tickets will be available for purchase at the Garland box office starting tomorrow at 4:30 p.m.

Below: David Bowie performs “Magic Dance” in Jim Henson’s “Labyrinth.”

Friday’s openings: Back to Benghazi and short jokes

As I sit here this morning listening to David Bowie sing "Ashes to Ashes," which is totally fitting, I ponder the films that will be opening on Friday — none of which, I might add, is likely to be as good as "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence."

Anyway, the week's scheduled mainstream movie openings are as follows:

"Ride Along 2": Kevin Hart and Ice Cube return as soon-to-be brothers in law who head for Miami to tackle some big-time drug dealers. Expect some short jokes.

"13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi": The story of the military contractors who struggle to survive on a night when the U.S. ambassador in Libya is killed. Michael Bay gets serious but still blows things up real good.

"Norm of the North": A polar bear become an unwitting marketing tool for a shady corporation. Animated ecology lesson for the kids.

I'll have the official list, along with the Magic Lantern openings, when they become available.

Note: The above films are indeed opening, along with a second run of "Room."

Spokane’s Marshall named Washington poet laureate

Tod Marshall, a Spokane poet and professor at Gonzaga University, has been named Washington's state poet laureate by Gov. Jay Inslee.

His two-year term kicks off on Feb. 1 and he is charged with building awareness and appreciation of poetry through appearances around the state, according to a news release from Humanities Washington, which co-sponsors the poet laureate program with the Washington State Arts Commission.

The job requires more than writing skills.

“The Washington State Poet Laureate must be more than a talented writer,” said Karen Hanan, executive director of the Washington State Arts Commission, in the news release. “We’ve been fortunate that all our past poets laureate—and now Tod—have been willing to travel the state meeting communities face-to-face. He or she must be a relentless advocate for the importance of poetry."

This fall, Marshall won the Washington Book Award for poetry for his 2014 collection, "Bugle." Humanities Washington also awarded him the 2015 Humanities Washington Award for Scholarship and Service. He also is the Robert K. and Ann J. Powers Endowed Professor in the Humanities at Gonzaga. His credits include the poetry collections "Dare Say" (2002) and "The Tangled Line" (2009), a finalist for the Washington Book Award. He also published a series of interviews with poets, "Range of the Possible" (2002) and an accompanying anthology "Range of Voices" (2005).

Marshall was born in New York but raised in Wichita, Kansas. He has a Master of Fine Arts degree from Eastern Washington University and a PhD. from the University at Kansas. He has been teaching at Gonzaga for more than 15 years.

Marshall is the fourth Washington poet laureate and the first who lives in Eastern Washington. He follows current laureate Elizabeth Austen, Kathleen Flenniken, who served from 2012-14, and Sam Green, laureate from 2007-09.

Above: Tod Marshall, photographed by Amy Sinisterra

What makes a good meal? Good service

Let me know if this has ever happened to you in a restaurant:

You enter with another couple, sit, have drinks, appetizers and spark up a pleasant relationship with your young server. (The other couple has been here before, so that makes things flow more smoothly.)

You order your entrees. One of you orders something that seems familiar, though it becomes clear that everything on this menu represents the chef’s personal take on the dish that’s offered. Which in three of the four cases tonight works out well.

But that fourth dish … well, it’s just not what anyone at the table was expecting. Moreover, it’s nothing anyone likes.

So when the server returns and delivers the obligatory line – “How is everything?” – we are honest. We say that three of the plates are good, superb actually, but that the fourth just doesn’t meet our expectations.

Here is what I’ve experienced in Spokane and most everywhere else:

1, the server says, “I’m sorry.” And walks away.

2, the server says, “I’m sorry.” And asks if you want something else.

3, the server says, “I’m sorry.” And offers you a free dessert.

4, the server gets the chef, who argues with you, making you feel as if you’re an ignorant clown. (This actually happened to my wife in a now-defunct Spokane eatery.)

Here’s what happened to us the other night at an Italian restaurant called Tutoni’s in York, Pa., where my in-laws live. One of us had ordered gnocchi, which turned out to be a seared version of the dish that none of us cared for.

We mentioned this and the server said that she was sorry. Then she offered to replace it with something else (we had plenty of food to share and said no). She left, only to come back saying that the chef insisted that he prepare us something else (we again declined, but thanked her profusely).

Then the owner dropped by and explained the chef’s take on the dish, what he was attempting to do, listened to our reactions and thanked us for the feedback. And never once was she defensive or did she attempt to make us feel uncomfortable.

Finally, the server did not charge us for the offending meal.

Folks, that is what I call good restaurant service. And that’s a place that deserves a return visit.