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

Friday’s openings: Football, cave-ins and Christmas

Note: This post originally listed another movie opening at the Magic Lantern. As noted below, the schedule has been changed.

Another week and another collection of big-screen openings is set to grace the area's screens. Friday's openings are as follows:

"My All American": When a smallish-but-disciplined football player gets injured, he faces the biggest fight of his life. From the same writer who gave us "Rudy," which should come as no surprise.

"The 33": Based on a true story, which occurred following a 2010 cave-in, three dozen and three Chilean miners find themselves trapped 700 meters underground. An international team of experts works on their rescue — an effort that could teach Congress a thing or two.

"Suffragette": Carey Mulligan stars as a young English working woman who sacrifices much to win women the right to vote. Leading, of  course, to a terrific David Bowie song.

"Love the Coopers": Four generations of a family gather for Christmas, and unexpected occurrences lead to the expected. A, uh, happy ending?

And at the Magic Lantern?

"We Come As Friends": A documentary filmmaker examine life in Sudan before the country's 2011 partition. Bring your outrage. 

Author/historian Nisbet to visit Moscow tonight

When I was a kid, history wasn’t so much involved with actual facts as it was in perpetuating myths. Not that myths are bad. But they’re analogous to the truth, not a substitute for it.

Which is why it’s so satisfying – for me, at least – to check out the work of historians/naturalists who delve into actual science to reveal the past. And one of those historians is Jack NIsbet, Spokane-based author of such books as “Visible Bones,” “Sources of the River” and the collection of essays “Ancient Places: People and Landscape in the Emerging Northwest.”

As reviewer Tim McNulty wrote in the Seattle Times, “Nisbet combines historic research with field work, personal interviews, and the kind of local knowledge that is gained only through decades of living in a place. He pays attention to stories told by longtime residents and tribal people, as well as geologists, paleontologists, anthropologists and university researchers.”

Nisbet will share and sign copies of “Ancient Places” at 6 p.m. tonight at Moscow’s BookPeople,  521 S. Main St. He will be joined by Dennis Baird and Diane Mallickan, co-edtors of “Encounters with the People: Written and Oral Accounts of Nez Perce Life to 1858 (Voices from Nez Perce Country).”

The event is free and open to the public.

‘Z Nation’ gets third season order

The made-in-Spokane zombie apocalypse drama "Z Nation" has been given a third season by Syfy, according to numerous published accounts Friday.

The Hollywood Reporter said that the channel ordered 15 episodes to air next year.

That should be cause for celebration at the Garland Theater, where tonight's episode - directed by Spokane's own Jason McKee - will be screened. Another local director, Juan Mas, directed the episode that will air next Friday.

Tonight's special screening begins at 9 p.m. the Garland, 924 W. Garland Ave. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 and proceeds benefit WAfilmPAC, an organization that supports in the film industry in Washington.

Can't make to the Garland but want to see McKee's episode? It's on SyFy tonight at 10 p.m.

"Z Nation" is produced by The Asylum in collaboration with North by Northwest.

‘The Assassin’: meditation as well as martial arts

Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-Hsien won the best director award at last May's Cannes Film Festival. His offering, "The Assassin," is playing at the Magic Lantern Theater. Following is the review of "The Assassin" that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio

Unlike many – if not most – children of the 21st century, I became a habitual movie-goer after learning how to read. And as a reader, I quickly learned to expect something specific out of the experience: namely, the ability to follow a narrative as it relates a plot or, at the very least, makes a conceptual point.

As my movie tastes grew more sophisticated, and as I began to seek out film from all over the globe, the manner in which I defined both plot and point evolved. I learned to appreciate storylines that were as scattered as they were obscure, points that were as debatable as they were abstruse … abstruse in the sense, as playwright Edward Albee would say, of recondite.

So when I watched veteran Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s award-winning movie “The Assassin,” I was prepared to not understand everything. Which, it turns out, is an understatement.

What I was NOT prepared for was just how beautiful the visuals Hou gives us would be – beautiful to the point that I ultimately didn’t care at all whether I understood what “The Assassin” was trying to say.

To be clear, “The Assassin” was one of the most acclaimed films to emerge from last May’s Cannes Film Festival. The festival jury awarded Hou its Best Director award, with composer Lim Giong picking up an award for the film’s evocative soundtrack.

Set in 9th century China, “The Assassin” focuses on a young woman who – at the age of 10 – is taken away by a mysterious nun who specializes in training assassins-for-hire. We first see our protagonist (played by the icily beautiful Taiwanese actress Shu Qi) in a black-and-white prologue that shows her dashing from a copse of trees to dispatch a man racing by on a horse. But when, in a second assignment, our killer refuses to kill a man because he is holding his son, the nun decides to remove her student’s inclinations toward mercy: Her task? To return to her home province and kill the young provincial Lord to whom she was once betrothed.

That much, it seems, is clear. But so much more isn’t. What, for example, are the motives behind the nun’s machinations? What is the relationship between the young Lord and the two women in his life? Who is the mysterious masked woman whom our protagonist fights amid the white spines of a cedar forest? Why does Hou’s camera linger for long single takes on every image from fog moving up a starkly beautiful mountainside to a pen full of goats?

Clearly, Hou is far more concerned with how “The Assassin” looks than what it has to say – at least to those Western viewers not familiar with either Chinese history or its cultural references. Virtually all the shots he uses display his mastery of framing and movement – or lack of – in a way that trivializes virtually every other filmmaking requirement.

That includes even, and perhaps especially, literal meaning. It occurs rarely, but beauty can be that stunning – which is a truism that Hou, clearly enough, embraces with more vigor than most.

On Sunday, go ‘Home Alone’ again

It’s strange to think that 25 years have passed since “Home Alone” opened across the nation. It’s seems only yesterday since I got shut out of a preview screening at the old Newport Highway Cinemas.

Remember when movies used to sell out?

“Home Alone,” which opened on Nov. 16, earned a cool $17 million on its opening weekend. It went on to rank as 1990’s No. 1 box-office earner. And to date, it has earned $285.7 million domestically, $476.7 worldwide.

And the photo of a wide-eyed, open-mouthed Macaulay Culkin – fingers splayed across his cheeks – became an instant meme.

On Sunday, you’ll get a chance to experience the original film all over again. A 25th Anniversary screening of “Home Alone” will show at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. at the Regal Northtown Mall and Coeur d’Alene’s Regal Riverstone Stadium Cinemas.

So take the opportunity and time-travel back to 1990. To big-shoulders on women’s suits and men wearing mullets.

And to theaters that overflowed with fans.

Oops, Bradley book event is tonight

Asa Maria Bradley's launch of her novel "Viking Warrior Rising" will be held at 7 tonight at Auntie's Bookstore. In a blog post below, I'd written that the event was set for Monday. That was an error.

Everything else, though, is just what Joe Friday would have said: just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts.

Best movies start with the ‘goodest’ words

As somebody who has been watching movies since "Singing' in the Rain" was released, and who has been reviewing them professionally since 1984, I have lots of opinions about what makes a good screenplay. But like almost everyone else, I like hearing what those in the industry think — especially those whose work I admire.

Spokane filmmaker Sean Finley is a Facebook friend of mine. And this morning he posted a video that addresses the question "What advice do you have for screenwriters?" And though some of the respondents are questionable, others — such as Steven Spielberg, Aaron Sorkin, Brie Larson and Michael Shannon — are well worth listening to.

The video, part of the Academy Originals series, was produced by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Check it out.

Oh, and thanks, Sean.

Friday’s openings: Spectre and Charlie Brown

From British Intelligence to latter-day Charles Schulz, Friday promises a variety of movie interests. The week's movie openings are as follows:

"Spectre": In what is likely to be his last James Bond outing, Daniel Craig stars as 007 bent on unveiling — and defeating — the secret organization of the film's title. Chances are he ends up both shaken and stirred.

"The Peanuts Movie": Snoopy and Charlie Brown embark on their personal quests, which involve flying and no doubt kicking footballs that keep disappearing. The doctor, again, is in.

"Miss You Already": Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette star as lifelong friends who face challenges as one gets married and the other develops an illness. Bring a hanky.

And at the Magic Lantern? A second-run opening of "Truth," the story of the controversial Dan Rather/Mary Mapes "60 Minutes" examination of George W. Bush's military service record. 

With or without that hanky, go see a movie. And enjoy. 

Is there life beyond Earth? Hand may have the answer

One of my favorite movie/book genres is science fiction. From "2001: A Space Odyssey" to Alastair Reynolds' "Revelation Space" series, I enjoy it all. And, too, I enjoy learning about the actual science behind the fiction.

Astrobiologist Kevin Hand is someone who works in that science. As a member of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Hand is involved in the search for extraterrestrial life. He is part of the team that is overseeing a planned mission to Jupiter's moon Europa, the ice-bound sphere that some suspect could harbor primitive forms of organic life.

In his presentation "The Search for Life Beyond Earth," which he will present at 7 tonight at the INB Performing Arts Center, Hand will discuss his work — from the Europa mission to his treks across Earth to seek out life in the most inhospitable spots, from ocean depths to the frigid shores of Antarctica.

Hand's presentation is part of a four-part series titled "National Geographic Live!" Future presentations include photographer Steve Minter and “On the Trail of Big Cats: Tigers, Cougars & Snow Leopards” (Feb. 9); photographer Vincent J. Musi on “Where the Wild Things Live” (March 8); and filmmaker/rock climber Cedar Wright on “Sufferfest: 700 Miles of Pain and Glory” (April 19).

Click here for ticket information. And check out the embed below to get a preview of Hand's work.

Meet ‘Viking’ author Bradley tonight

Note: This event is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 4. The date mentioned below is in error.

Used to be that genres of literary fiction were pretty simple. Crime and mystery, Western, romance, "serious," etc. But those days are long past.

For example, one example of a contemporary fiction sub-genre will be on display at 7 tonight at Auntie's Bookstore. Asa Maria Bradley, who splits time between teaching physics at Spokane Falls Community College and writing novels, will read from her paranormal romance "Viking Warrior Rising."

The "paranormal" part involves this (courtesy of Bradley's website): "Leif Skarsganger and his elite band of immortal warriors have been charged to protect humanity from the evil Norse god Loki."

The Viking part? Bradley is originally from Sweden. And who doesn't love Loki?

Paisley tickets on sale Friday

Country superstar Brad Paisley will return to the Spokane Arena on Feb. 12 for his first Spokane appearance in four years. Tickets will go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday, through TicketsWest outlets. Call (800) 325-SEAT or visit www.ticketswest.com. Prices are $59.75, $39.75 and $25.

The Crushin’ It World Tour will also feature opening acts Eric Paslay and Cam. The latter was named as one of Rolling Stone's 10 country artists to watch this past spring, and she also wrote "Maybe You're Right" for Miley Cyrus' "Bangerz" album.

Elba is the top dog in ‘Beasts of No Nation’

Anyone who is a Netflix member has access to any number of good films, classic and contemporary. And now, Netflix is offering original material. Or something close to it.

One of those films is "Beasts of No Nation," a film that was among the trio of selections we reviewed for the Spokane Public Radio program "Movies 101." Following is my own review of the film:

Unless you’re a fan of the HBO series “The Wire,” or you spend time watching BBC-produced programs such as “Luther,” you may not know the name Idris Elba.

And if that is the case, you should correct the situation as quickly as possible. One way: Go to your Netflix prompt and order the movie “Beasts of No Nation.”

Written and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, and adapted from the novel of the same name by Nigerian writer Uzodinma Iweala, “Beasts of No Nation” is set in an unnamed African country – unnamed even though it was filmed in Ghana and stars a Ghanian teenager, Abraham Attah.

Attah plays Agu, a young boy who lives with his family in a protected zone threatened by the larger country’s civil war. Even given the precarious circumstances in which he lives, Attah experiences a relatively normal life – cadging soldiers for the occasional dollar, disobeying his parents, making fun at his older brother’s expense.

Then one day everything changes. War invades the zone and Agu finds himself alone, running for his life through the countryside. And the life he discovers remakes him completely: Agu is recruited into an army overseen, and supremely controlled, by a charismatic man known only as the Commandant.

As played by Elba, the Commandant is as engaging as a high-school football coach, albeit one with sociopathic tendencies. Loving but stern, he seduces his young troops. He promises both opportunities for revenge and the chance to earn a better life, and he imbues each soldier with a sense that the bond between them – between him as the symbolic father-leader and them as his child followers – is something special. Born under fire, that bond is nearly unbreakable – even when the Commandant, as he typically does, abuses it.

Ultimately, though, the bond does break. Because the truth is, the Commandant is only a small cog in a much bigger rebel wheel. And when his closest followers, including Agu, see him treated like a lackey by the rebel leader, the Commandant’s charisma falters. And, gradually, everything that holds the boy-soldier army together dissipates. And Agu in particular is left with the question: What now?

“Beasts of No Nation” is only Fukunaga’s fourth feature, though he may be best known for having directed the first season of the HBO series “True Detective.” Opting for a small theatrical release, in only 31 theaters, he agreed to let Netflix play the movie for its subscribers. And that probably was a smart move: Since its Oct. 16 release, Fukunaga’s film has earned a reported 3 million views.

However you see it, though, “Beasts of No Nation” is an intense view. Not only is it difficult to watch the violence – in one scene, a man’s skull is cleaved by a machete – but the abuse to children, even if it is designed to make a point, is even worse.

Elba, though, is a revelation. Few actors have the kind of personal power that can make evil seem, at first, so attractive but then, finally, merely pathetic.

Win free tickets to ‘Mark Twain Tonight’

One of the longest running show in American theater history is coming to back to Spokane, and we have two tickets to give away!

In 1954, actor Hal Holbrook developed “Mark Twain Tonight” with dramatic readings of by one of America’s most illustrious authors. This year marks the 61st consecutive year that Holbrook has performed as the renowned author and humorist, a role for which he won a Tony Award in 1966.

Enter to win two tickets to Hal Holbrook in Mark Twain Tonight on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, at INP Performing Arts Center. One winner will be randomly drawn and announced on Tuesday, Nov. 3. See Contest Rules for details.

Friday’s openings: Chefs, zombies and climate change

Bradley Cooper as a chef, a Cannes winner about trained killer and zombies will grace local movie screens beginning Friday. Which sounds just about right for a Daylight Savings Time weekend. The week's openings are as follows:

"Burnt": Cooper plays a foodie hotshot who flames out in Paris but manages to wrangle a second chance at chefly success. Make mine Tums, please.

"Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse": Three young Scouts attempt to save their hometown from a zombie attack. Clearly, zombies aren't trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly or anything else remotely Scoutish.

And at the Magic Lantern:

"The Assassin": As I noted last week, this Cannes winner by Taiwanese director Hou Hsaio-Hsien pits a woman assassin between her mentor and the man she had been destined to marry. So, he didn't go to Jared?

"This Changes Everything": Avi Lewis' documentary focuses on seven communities around the world that are using inventive ways to deal with climate change. Just ask Al Gore.

Stay tune for changes, should they occur. Until then, go see a movie. And enjoy.

Nov. 2 deadline for Sound Off! showcase

If you know any aspiring young musicians, you might want to tip them off to this opportunity.

Seattle's EMP invites Northwest bands and musicians age 21 and younger to apply for the 15th annual Sound Off! Battle of the Bands showcase.

Musicians from across Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia, are encouraged to apply. All genres of original music are accepted. Bands are evaluated by a panel of judges for the following criteria: song composition and arrangement, creativity and originality, technical ability and musicianship.

Twelve bands will be selected to perform at 2016 Sound Off! concerts in February and March at EMP. All semifinalists are awarded with media training, a professional photo shoot, participation in a music industry panel and a festival performance. Prizes for finalists also include musical instruments, recording time, radio airplay and future performance opportunities.

Sound Off! applications are due Monday, Nov. 2, 2015. Contact SoundOff@EMPmuseum.org with questions.