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

‘Noah’ offers a lot of questions, few answers

You may have already seen Darren Aronofsky's film “Noah.” If so, you might be interested in the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio. If not, you might take my review as a warning. Bring along a bottle of aspirin.

Here's my review:

When I was a freshman in college, I dated a girl whose parents were members of the Southern Baptist church. I would go with her family to Sunday service and get involved in spirited discussions about morality – this was in 1965, when the Vietnam War was heating up – and bible stories.

I was confused about the Bible. Being a naïve kid, I tended to ask fairly simplistic questions, such as – how is it possible for Adam and Eve to give birth to the entire human race? Then, one day, my girlfriend turned to me and said, “Da-an, it’s a me-ta-phor.” And this simple pronouncement, uttered by a girl who was still in high school, rocked my world.

I was reminded of that conversation when I watched Darren Aronofsky’s film “Noah,” which doesn’t replicate the story told in Genesis so much as use it for inspiration. The other inspiration, as writer-director Aronofsky has bragged about, is a poem he wrote at age 13 for his seventh-grade teacher – whom he rewarded by giving her not one but two small roles in the film.

Her reward was far better than the one I received, which – augmented by an IMAX-size screen – was a viewing experience that ended up giving me a raging headache. It was only later that I realized I had come down with the flu. But that’s a whole other story. And anyway I still blame the movie.

Regarding the biblical Noah, Genesis raises more questions than it answers (like the tale of Adam and Eve) It involves Noah and his family, the Arc and “two of all living creatures, male and female.” The question becomes, then, how from that limited genetic group do not just the human race but all living things “go forth and multiply”? I was anxious to see what answer Aronofsky would offer.

Turns out, “Noah” the movie doesn’t provide any answers. If anything, it poses even more questions. Such as, who are these rock creatures – supposedly fallen angels called “The Watchers” – who look like something from the set of “Transformers”? How does the character Tubal-Cain – yes, of THAT Cain line – not only manage to sneak aboard the Arc but live in seclusion for nine months without Noah suspecting? How about the animals – those that Tubal-Cain doesn’t eat, that is – what, they SLEEP for the entire voyage? And if everyone else has perished, who is Noah’s son Ham, who ends up doing an end-of-the-movie walkabout, supposed to hook up with? Isn’t everybody else dead? And if they aren’t, what … was … the … point?

Aronofsky doesn’t seem to care. He’s too busy directing Russell Crowe to another of his life-is-so-glum performances, too preoccupied dressing his cast up in cast-off post-apocalyptic outfits, too thrilled with his CGI world-comin-to-an-end effects. Thank the creator that he decided to cast Ray Winstone as the villain; someone had to show Oscar-winners Crow, Jennifer Connelly and Anthony Hopkins how to carry a line.

Yeah, “Noah” looks good. Aronofsky is a skilled filmmaker; films such as “Requiem for a Dream,” “The Wrestler” and “Black Swan” prove that much. But style is no substitute for plot holes. Not everything can be a me-ta-phor.

EWU Get Lit! festival struts its alumni today

Since its inception, Eastern Washington University's annual literary celebration, the tongue-in-cheek-titled Get Lit! has offered area lit lovers access to a range of writing talent. Today, from 5-7 p.m. at the Red Lion Inn at the Park, the festival — which officially runs from April 7-13 — offers a preview of things to come that boasts a local flavor. It's called the Get Lit! EWU Alumni Reading.

EWU alumni such as Asa Marie Bradley, Aimee R. Cervenka, Scott Eubanks, Liz Rognes and Spokesman-Review columnist Shawn Vestal (author of the story collection “Godforsaken Idaho”), will both read from their respective works and talk about their lives as writers.

Tickets are $10 at the door and include hors d'oeuvres and, most important, a drink ticket.

Draw Your Dreams winners announced

Six area youth will be honored next month for their efforts in creating illustrations of their special dreams.

Earlier this year, Building Dreams, formerly Playhouse Project Spokane, invited budding young artists throughout the Inland Northwest to create original artwork as part of an annual auction for area community centers.

The “Draw to Dream” competition was open to ages 4 and under, 5-8 and 9-12, and artists were evaluated on creativity and adherence to the topic.  The top submissions in each age group received a variety of prizes including an iPad Mini for the overall grand prize winner. 

The winners will be recognized at the second-ever Building Dreams gala auction fund-raiser May 10 at the Spokane Convention Center.

Tickets are $40 per person, or $400 for a table of 10, and can be purchased by calling (509) 323-7480 or online at westcentralcc.org.  Raffle tickets are $1 apiece and available at any of the three community centers or at the Spokane Home Builders Premier Show April 11-13. 

Along with recognition of the artistic winners, the event will also include the auctioning of a variety of original playhouses and related other structures created by area builders and artists.

Last year, 12 unique structures were auctioned off, but this year, more items are available including dog houses, patio furniture, gazebos, grape arbors, pergolas, community library boxes, jungle gyms, dollhouses and greenhouses. 

Proceeds from the auction benefit the West Central Community Center, Northeast Youth Center and the Peaceful Valley Community Center.  These centers provide programs and services promoting education, recreation and positive life choices for at-risk youth. 

Last year’s event raised $48,344 for youth programs.   

To watch construction of structures being built for the auction, follow Building Dreams Spokane on Facebook.  To get more information on the auction or become a sponsor, call Kim Ferraro at (509) 323-7480 or visit westcentralcc.org. 

The “Draw Your Dream” winners included:

  • Grand Prize Winner – Paige Wilton, 8, Hayden, Idaho
  • Winner Ages 1-4 – Kailen Sandberg, 4, Spokane
  • Winner Ages 5-8 – Divine Maple, 7, Coulee City, Wash.
  • Winner Ages 9-12 – Mackenzi Sandberg, 11, Spokane
  • Honorable Mention Most Charitable – Gabriella “Gabby” Kelly, 10, Newman Lake, Wash.
  • Honorable Mention Most Creative – Stella Beadle, 9, Spokane

To see the winning entries, click here.

Check out ‘La Boheme’ on Saturday morning

I was taught early on in my journalism career never to use a question lead: As in, “Are you an opera fan?”

The reason? Because anyone who is NOT an opera fan will answer with a curt no and move on. But that's exactly why this lead is so effective for the post I want to write. Because if you are NOT an opera fan, then you're not going to care that a Metropolitan Opera production of Puccini's “La Boheme” will screen at 10 a.m. Saturday at Regal Cinemas' NorthTown Mall.

Click here for ticket information. And enjoy the singers, portly and otherwise.

Friday’s openings: From science to science fiction

Though only three movies are opening locally this weekend, movie fans should find the range of choices interesting if not actually daunting, particularly to those with a bent for science. The openings are:

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”: The only mainstream opening is a continuation of the Steve Rogers/Captain America story that Marvel Comics began in 2011's “Captain America: The First Avanger,” continued in 2012's “The Avengers” and briefly in 2013's “Thor: The Dark World.” Chris Evans, whose superhero duty includes playing Johnny Story/The Human Torch in the “Fantastic 4” series, returns as America's super-soldier. This time he faces the Winter Soldier, an enemy from the Cold War (and no, that's not code for Vladimir Putin). The movie will be screened in 3-D, regular 2-D and IMAX formats.

And at the Magic Lantern:

“Particle Fever”: Documentary filmmaker Mark Levinson explores the preparation and follow-through of the the Large Hadron Collider to attempt to find the elusive Higgs boson.  

“Moulin Rouge — The Ballet”: Debuting in 2009, the ballet production of “Moulin Rouge” is performed by Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet troupe. No, this is not Baz Luhrman's 2001 movie version.

Morris on Rumsfeld: The known remains unknown

For weeks, it seems, movie fans were asking about Wes Anderson's “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” When, they wanted to know, was it coming to Spokane? And on Friday, it finally did.

Funny but I haven't noticed anyone asking about Errol Morris' “The Unknown Known.” Following the format of Morris' 2003 Oscar-winning Documentary feature “The Fog of War,” his “The Unknown Known” is based on the 33 hours Morris spent interviewing former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The title comes, of course, from Rumsfeld's famous (or should that be infamous?) statement, made in response to a question during a 2002 news briefing: “Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don't know.”

First screened in August 2003 at the Telluride Film Festival, “The Unknown Known” has been working the festival circuit and is only now slowly getting a mainstream release. Available through On Demand services this Friday, it's scheduled to screen April 11 at the Magic Lantern.

To read Morris' own recollection about the experience, click here.

Yuri Adler’s ‘Bethlehem’ is likely to haunt you

Thursday saw the opening night of the 2014 Spokane Jewish Cultural Film Festival, a festival that typically screens some of the most interesting films of the year. The festival continues Saturday night at the Magic Lantern before concluding Sunday. Saturday's film, “Bethlehem,” is still haunting me a full week after having seen it. Following is an edited version of the review that I wrote for Spokane Pubic Radio:

One of the basic precepts of a classic action movie is the clear delineation between good and evil. More sophisticated filmmakers – even those who play to mainstream audiences – tend to blur the lines between heroes and villains. Overall, though, the essential white-hat/black-hat formula still applies.

So let’s make this abundantly clear: “Bethlehem,” which plays Saturday night at the Magic Lantern as part of the Spokane Jewish Cultural Film Festival, is no action film. Yes, people get shot, bludgeoned by rocks, tortured, and one dies in a grenade blast. The plot revolves around the search for a suicide bomber. One sequences involves an extended race through city streets at night. And a guy gets pushed to his death down a stairwell.

But this is no Jason Bourne adventure. It is, rather, an intense, powerful, even devastating look at the real-world life of spies and terror and the moral dilemmas that confront those who fight on both sides of a conflict where conduct is dictated as much by the survival principle as by simple pragmatism.

Set in the well-known biblical city, identified in the New Testament as the birthplace of Jesus, the film “Bethlehem” takes us to a place that – at least as seen by writer-director Yuval Adler and co-writer Ali Wakad – is a seething, tightly packed desert town, filled with corrupt politicians, gun-toting men, scarf-clad women and disaffected male youth aping the macho actions of their elders.

Adler follows three main characters: Razi is an operative for Shin Bet, Israel’s Security Service; Sanfur, a name that translates as “Smurf,” is a teenage Palestinian struggling to live in the shadow of his famous resistance-fighter older brother; Badawi is a confederate of Sanfur’s brother, a man striving to make his own mark in a world where power comes as much from lineage and connections as it does from the barrel of a gun.

These characters are engaged in realistic situations that we read about every day. But while moviegoers are bound to react to Adler’s film based on their own individual biases – it’s understandably hard to find common ground between any Israeli-Palestinian issue – Adler makes nothing about “Bethlehem” seem simple. Not plot, not character and particularly not character motivation. More so than most filmmakers, Adler and Wakad don’t tend to blur the lines between bad and good as erase them completely.

Razi, both a father and husband, is basically a decent man. He is ruthless, however, in how he recruits informers, and his actions may be as much for personal reasons as for state security. As he races to locate the afore-mentioned suicide bomber, he makes decisions regarding Sanfur that are questionable, even unprofessional. What’s worse, he lies about those decisions to his colleagues, to his wife – and possibly even to himself.

Much easier to figure out are Sanfur and Badawi. The latter’s single-minded struggle to achieve power is complicated by his Bedouin ethnicity, which makes him a rogue outsider to Palestine’s established leaders – and a dangerous rogue element.  Sanfur, on the other hand, is a rootless boy, unable to keep a job, the loser younger sibling of a community hero, a man-child caught up in a world where respect is earned by innate toughness – and Sanfur, for all his teen bluster, is more Smurf than soldier. It’s easy to see, then, how easily Razi could manipulate him, even to the point of betraying his closest blood relatives.

In the end, notions of good and bad in “Bethlehem” seem secondary. Badawi, though he understands family honor, is tied to suicide bombers and capable of cold-blooded murder. Razi tries to protect Sanfur, though it’s never clear why, and his lies put his own people, as well as himself, in dire jeopardy. And while Sanfur, used by all, respected by none, may deserve sympathy, his inherent neediness, fueled by desperation, masks a deadly kind of rage that ultimately, ironically, plays out in what may be the year’s most shattering climax.

Whatever else you may end up thinking about “Bethlehem,” you’re not likely to forget it.

Those ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ get a new look

I'm not sure this constitutes breaking news, but the trailer for the new adaptation of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is out. I've embedded it below. Produced by Michael Bay, it's directed by Jonathan Liebesman and features Megan Fox of Bay's “Transformers” series. You'll likely be seeing a lot of the trailer because the film is still in post-production and isn't scheduled to hit U.S. theaters until August 8.

Jewish Film Festival adds to the week’s movie riches

As if a number of interesting movies weren't already opening on Friday, this coming weekend will see one of my favorite Spokane film events of the year: the annual Spokane Jewish Cultural Film Festival. And judging from the three movies that the festival organizers have selected this year, the festival should be as good as ever.

The festival, which will be held at the Magic Lantern, begins at 7:30 p.m. Thursday with a screening of “The Ballad of the Weeping Spring,” written and directed by Israeli filmmaker Benny Toraty. It tells the story of a man, long estranged from friends and family, who is called to form a group of musicians to perform a song for a dying friend. The film is a road movie of sorts, with the protagonist — played by actor Uri Gavriel — experiencing a number of difficulties, both comic and emotion-wrought, trying to find the right musicians for his group. The music, which is played with traditional instruments, is particularly good.

On Saturday, the festival will feature a 7 p.m. screening of “Bethlehem,” directed and co-written by Yuval Adler. More a police procedural with spy overtones, “Bethlehem” tells the story of Israeli intelligence services infiltrating various Palestinian militant groups and the often violent, and ultimately devastating, consequences. It centers on three figures: an operative for Israel's secret service, the teenage Palestinian boy he recruits and the head of a Palestinian rebel group, all of whose fates are intertwined and lead to the film's shattering climax. “Bethlehem” was Israel's official entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar and is a film you're not likely to forget.

Finally, at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, the festival will screen the documentary “Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy.” Written and directed by Michael Kantor, the film — which has already been aired on Public Television — tells the story of Jewish composers and lyricists such as Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein and how their work helped shape the modern Broadway musical.

Tickets to the films can be purchased in advance or at the Lantern box office a half hour before each screening. For more information, click here.

It should be a ‘Grand’ weekend for movie fans

Wes Anderson fans can rejoice: AMC River Park Square is planning to open Anderson's new movie, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” on Friday, along with its regular mix of mainstream and art-house films. Here's what's tentatively coming:

“Noah”: Darren Aronofsky's take on the story from Genesis, which he reportedly imbues with even more imagination than the original, will play in regular and IMAX formats (but, it seems, no 3-D).

“The Grand Budapest Hotel”: The trailers fool you into thinking that this film is nearly a carbon copy of “Moonrise Kingdom,” but I have it on good authority (my daughter, who saw the film in New York) that this period-piece fable may be Anderson's best effort yet.

“Sabotage”: Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a DEA agent whose team members, following a successful raid on a Mexican drug cartel, start dying one by one. At age 66, isn't the big Austrian ready for retirement?

“Cesar Chavez”: Michael Peña plays the charismatic labor organizer whose efforts on behalf of farm workers helped change a nation's consciousness.

“Bad Words”: And, finally, another anticipated film, this one a dark comedy about an adult (Jason Bateman, who also directs) who, through a technicality, forces his way into a regional spelling bee. Talk about arrested development.

Over at the Magic Lantern, in addition to hosting the Spokane Jewish Cultural Film Festival, the theater will open:

“Mistaken for Strangers”: This documentary tells the story of the indie music group The National as told in personal fashion by Tom Berninger, little brother of lead singer Matt Berninger.

“Enemy”: Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners”) follows a man (Jake Gyllenhaal) who sees his double in a movie and obsessively sets out to track him down.

Don’t expect a literal adaptation of the ‘Noah’ story

It's a simple description: “A man is chosen by God to undertake a momentous mission of rescue before an apocalyptic flood destroys the world.” Only thing is, the man is called Noah. And the story that filmmaker Darren Aronofsky is telling comes from the Bible (specifically the Old Testament, Genesis 5:32-10:1).

But let's be clear: Aronofsky isn't telling a literal Bible story. In fact, his movie — which opens wide on Friday — even carries a disclaimer: “The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.”

Aronofsky's “artistic license” clearly will prove upsetting to some people, especially those who were so taken with Mel Gibson's 2004 film “The Passion of the Christ.” But it isn't impressing some critics either.

The guy does make interesting movies, from “Pi” to “Requiem” for a Dream” to “The Wrestler” to “Black Swan.” His version of “Noah” should prove no different. Question is, will it be satisfying?

Here's hoping the answer will have us, uh … floating on air?

Enjoy a virtual winter’s trip to 1377 England

Winter is never an easy time. Yeah, yeah, I know people love winter sports. But it's cold and usually snowy and typically dark from the early afternoon until well after most working people throw their ringing alarms across the room.

Think about what it must have been like to be living in England in December of the year 1377. Author Ned Hayes did, and the process drove him to write “Sinful Folk,” a novel that he will read from at 7 tonight at Auntie's Bookstore.

Here's a short synopsis: “In December of 1377, four children were burned to death in a house fire. Villagers traveled hundreds of miles across England to demand justice for their children's deaths. 'Sinful Folk' is the story of this terrible mid-winter journey as seen by Mear, a former nun who has lived for a decade disguised as a mute man, raising her son quietly in this isolated village. For years, she has concealed herself and all her history. But on this journey, she will find the strength to redeem the promise of her past. Mear begins her journey in terror and heartache, and ends in triumph and transcendence.”

To access some reviews, click here. And make sure to bundle up.

Let’s hope they come up with an ‘Incredibles’ story

Among the animated films that have been released over the past several years, “The Incredibles” ranks among my favorites. The blend of family sitcom and superhero flick, all set to a theme of forced retirement and extraordinary people forced to deal with ordinary problems of existence, was handled with humor and a whole lot of wit.

Now comes word that a sequel to “The Incredibles” has been green lighted. Brad Bird, writer-director of the 2004 original film, is reportedly the guy writing the screenplay (Bird directed the forthcoming “Tomorrowland”).

Given the lackluster success of so many other animated sequels (anyone really like “Cars 2,” not to mention all those straight-to-video films?), the announcement of a second “Incredibles” film might not mean much. But one can always hope. After all, the three “Toy Story” movies were pretty good.

And “Toy Story 2” might be my favorite.

Friday’s openings: heaven and other movie tales

According to a Harris Poll conducted in December, some 74 percent of adults in the U.S. believe in the existence of God. Though that percentage is down eight points from previous polls, it still says something about the spiritual energy of a nation that was founded on the notion of a separate church and state.

It also says something about the movies we watch, which this week include among the Spokane-area openings a Christian-sponsored movie titled “God's Not Dead” that, if nothing else, seems to have a “Duck Dynasty” seal of approval.

The week's scheduled openings:

“Divergent”: Based on a series of novels written by Veronica Roth, this sci-fi fantasy centers on a young woman named Tris who learns that she is “Divergent” and, therefore, different from regular society. When she learns that she and others are being targeted for extinction, she joins the resistance. Hmmmm, think anyone has read/seen the “Hunger Games” series?

“Muppets Most Wanted”: The late Jim Henson's favorite characters return in this jewel-heist caper flick, which stars Rick Gervais, Tina Fey and Ty Burrell. Bonus feature: not one but TWO Kermit the Frogs.

“Tim's Vermeer”: Directed by Teller (of the magic duo Penn and Teller), this documentary follows the obsession of technology whiz Tim Jenison for re-creating a painting by the noted artist Johannes Vermeer. No, it's not a magic trick.

“God's Not Dead”: A college student and his philosophy professor debate the existence of Father Time. Or something.

And at the Magic Lantern:

“Gloria”: A middle-age Chilean woman looks for love in some of the wrong places. Oh, right, that's a different pop song.

“Different Drummers”: The Lantern opens this locally made film in what is a second run, following a short premiere recently at the AMC River Park Square.

“20 Feet From Stardom”: The Oscar-winning documentary feature, which focuses on the back-up singers for a generation of rock stars, returns for a second run.

Galileo: Learn about the man and his legend

I often find academic lectures a bit unappealing, if not actually boring. I had plenty of those kinds of experiences both as an undergraduate and graduate student. But the program titled “What Can We Learn From Galileo?” which will be held at 7 tonight at Gonzaga University's Jepson Center (in the center's Wolff Auditorium), could well prove to be an exception.

Gonzaga faculty members Brian Clayton and Eric Kincanon will be addressing the facts — and trying to differentiate those from the vast amount of fiction — surrounding the Italian astronomer Galileo Galiei. Clayton, an associate professor of philosophy,  will address Galileo's “legend” versus the “reality,” while Kincannon, a professor of physics, will outline the man's many scientific contributions.

Astronomy and the larger world of science are in the news today thanks both to the new “Cosmos” series and the release of the most recent study regarding the Big Bang Theory. And Galileo was one of the men who helped us begin to understand how the universe works, a process that has led humanity gradually away from the dark of superstition.

Tonight's program is free and open to the public.

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