7 Blog

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

Casino adds shows from Parton, Duran Duran

There's a healthy dose of '80s nostalgia happening in Spokane this summer.

Northern Quest added to its summer concert series this morning with the announcement of two new shows: Duran Duran on Sept. 2, and the legendary Dolly Parton on Sept. 22.

Duran Duran, who last played Spokane on the 2005 reunion tour, is on the road in support of their latest album, "Paper Gods." They join a summer concert season already heavy on '80s britpop bands, including Tears for Fears on June 15 at the INB and Culture Club with the English Beat and Berlin at Northern Quest on Aug. 12. A non-British icon from the '80s, Pat Benatar, will be at the casino on Aug. 27, with Melissa Etheridge.

Parton, meanwhile, is not really considered an 80s act, but she had some of her biggest crossover hits in the decade, including her Oscar-nominated theme to the film "9-to-5" and the Kenny Rogers duet "Islands in the Stream." The country legend, one of the best songwriters to ever come out of Nashville, is billing this tour as her biggest in more than 25 years.

Tickets to the previously announced summer shows at Northern Quest, which also include Dierks Bentley, the Avett Brothers, Goo Goo Dolls and Big & Rich, are on sale through the casino website, here. Tears for Fears at the INB went on sale Friday, and tickets are available here.

Duran Duran tickets are $65, $85 and $105; Parton's show is $89, $109 and $129. Both go on sale at 8:30 a.m. Saturday through the casino box office, (509) 481-2800, or online.

FWIW, we'd be shocked if Parton didn't play this one when she's here in September. And I'd love it if she sang this one.

(Above: Duran Duran perform at Day 1 of the 2015 iHeartRadio Music Festival at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Friday, Sept. 18, 2015 in Las Vegas. Photo by Al Powers/Powers Imagery/Invision/AP.)

Hardy proves twice hardy in ‘Legend’

I'm a big Tom Hardy fan. Following is a review of his film "Legend" that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

In March, when it was announced that Leonardo DiCaprio won the Best Actor Award for his performance in “The Revenant,” it seemed only fitting. While “The Revenant” might not have been DiCaprio’s best acting job – I’m still a fan of what he did as a 19-year-old in the 1993 film “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” – it was a just reward for all he went through while making Alejandro González Iñárritu’s demanding Best Picture winner.

Actually, though, I think DiCaprio pulled off only the movie’s second-best performance. I think the best acting in “The Revenant” was done by British actor Tom Hardy, who portrayed the movie’s antagonist, John Fitzgerald.

You’ve likely heard of Hardy. He was the troubled brother opposite Joel Edgerton in 2011’s “Warrior.” Behind a virtual mountain of makeup, he was the villain Bane in 2012’s “The Dark Knight Rises.” He appeared in any number of other films, from “Black Hawk Down” to “Star Trek: Nemesis,” “Inception” to “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

But if you want to see what Hardy is really capable of, you need to see the 2008 film “Bronson” and the 2015 film “Legend,” both now available in a variety of home-viewing formats.

In these films, Hardy doesn’t just act. He doesn’t just become a screen character. He embodies the real-life personalities he is attempting to portray and ends up achieving something that warrants such adjectives as dynamic and fearless and even unforgettable.

“Bronson,” directed by the Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn, tells the based-in-fact story of the man described as “the most violent prisoner in Britain.” And Hardy, beefed up, head shaved and equipped with a mustache that would make Harry Reems blush, imbues him with the kind of vigor that seems to jump off the screen.

Skip forward seven years, and now – in “Legend” – Hardy is playing the notorious Kray brothers, Reggie and Ronnie, those London mobsters of the 1950s and ’60s who previously were portrayed by the Kemp brothers, Gary and Martin, in the 1990 biopic “The Krays.” Director Peter Medek’s conceit was to use the twin Kemps to play the twin Krays.

The conceit of director Brian Helgeland in “Legend” is to use Hardy to play both Krays: the violent, more sensible Reggie AND the violent, sociopathically limited Ronnie. And Hardy doesn’t disappoint.

Appearing in virtually every scene, Hardy manages to imbue each Kray with a distinct personality. Told mostly through the eyes of the woman who would become Reggie’s first wife, which allows Helgeland to avoid the standard all-inclusive biopic storytelling style, we watch as the brothers devour post-war London with a ferociousness that impresses even New York Italian mobsters (cameo by Chazz Palminteri).

Besides Palminteri, Hardy is joined by the likes of former “Doctor Who” Christopher Eccelston, veteran actor David Thewlis and the lesser-known Australian actress Emily Browning. But “Legend,” in the end, belongs to Hardy, who chews up every scene he’s in with a singular sense of viciousness. It’s almost as if he’s the living reincarnation of the characters he is portraying.

And he does it twice over. Take that, Leo.

Don’t wait until dark to hear Steve Oliver

As a culture, we are fascinated by crime. Whether in classic cinema ("Scarface," "The Godfather"), true-crime books ("Helter Skelter"), magazines (True Detective) or cheesy television shows ("Snapped"), we devour crime stories the way teenagers devour pizza.

Steve Oliver is no different. Oliver, though, has found a way to meld crime and art. Or at least a kind of art.

The author of the "Moody" mystery series, Oliver doubles as a publisher. He's published books, reprints of old newspaper crime stories and, now, he's been printing an old-school-type mystery magazine titled “The Dark City Crime and Mystery Magazine,” which specializes in mystery/crime stories boasting West Coast settings. Including Spokane.

Oliver will share some of those stories at Auntie's Bookstore tonight at 7. The program is free and open to the public.

There's only one thing wrong with the timing: The sun won't set until 7:29. So the event title needs a slight edit.

Call it Steve Olievr's "Near Dark City" reading.

‘On the Waterfront’: dueling interpretations

You can look at Elia Kazan's 1954 film "On the Waterfront" in a number of ways. A multiple Oscar winner, snaring the top four — Best Film, Best Director for Kazan, Best Actor for Marlon Brando and Best Actress for Eva Marie Saint — the film is most obviously seen as a stirring saga of one man's battle to do the right thing.

That man is Terry Malloy (Brando), a former boxer, now punch-drunk dock worker who finds himself caught between the union boss who controls the docks (Lee J. Cobb) and those who want a work situation not tied to organized crime. Malloy is doubly caught because his brother (Rod Steiger) is the dock boss' flunky.

Then he meets Edie (Marie Saint), sister of a man Terry saw being murdered. And his growing affection for her causes him to question his long-held loyalties and consider taking a stand against corruption. Which, by agreeing to testify against the murderers, he ultimately does.

But "doing the right thing" means different things to different people. In 1954, the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was still a powerful entity. Formed in 1938 as a means of investigating suspected Communist activity in the U.S., it gradually became a witch hunt, extending to Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Witnesses were issues subpoenas forcing them to appear before the committee, then interrogated not only on what they believed or had done but also ordered to name others.

Those who refused could be accused of contempt of Congress and jailed. And many, whether arrested or not, were fired from their jobs and blacklisted by employers. The experiences of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo and the other members of the Hollywood Ten were examined in the recent film "Trumbo," which detailed how many in Hollywood were treated.

Kazan and at least two of his "On the Waterfront" colleagues, screenwriter Budd Schulberg and actor Cobb, all testified before HUAC. And all named names (though Cobb, the story goes, struggled for two years and ultimately did so only reluctantly). As such, it's no great stretch to see "On the Waterfront" as a dramatic justification for the actions of people who agree to … well, name names.

However you view "On the Waterfront," though, no one can argue that it isn't a great film. Just as no one can argue that Kazan wasn't an influential stage and movie director.

You'll get the chance to judge for yourself on April 24 and 27 at Regal's NorthTown Mall and Coeur d'Alene Riverstone Stadium Cinemas. The movie has long been available in a variety of formats, but TCM is reviving it on the big screen for 2 and 7 p.m. showings. You can order tickets by clicking here.

Then go back and read your history. It's been more than six decades, but being true to one's ideals may be more important now than ever.

‘The Boss’: Viewers want what they want

It's fairly clear that most people pay little attention to critics. The range of differing opinions between critics and general audiences is often great.

Let's take Rotten Tomatoes as an example. RT is unique in that it gauges both critical and audience reactions, posting them side by side. And while it still hasn't opened, the new Melissa McCarthy vehicle "The Boss" is already showing a vast gap between what critics are thinking and what audiences are expecting.

Of the nine critical opinions regarding "The Boss," only one is termed not "rotten." And that's from Forbes magazine, which has this to say: " 'The Boss' is just a rock-solid and genuinely funny comic vehicle from one of our biggest/brightest comedic movie stars." The others, from such diverse publications as USA Today and The Village Voice, are negative in the extreme.

Example: From USA Today: "A free-for-all of inappropriate language unsuitable for even the most crass boy's-club boardroom, 'The Boss' can't quite decide if warming the heart or obliterating it with insults is the end goal."

Yet when RT gauges audience expectations (from 12,356 respondents), "The Boss" earns a 94 percent "want to see" rating.

Maybe Justin Chang, the critic from Variety, explains this contrast best: "McCarthy remains one of the funniest actors alive," which is a sentiment even the most acerbic critic might agree with. Unfortunately, Chang continues, calling McCarthy's talent "a truth that frequently rescues, but doesn't really redeem, this sloppy comedy."

Expect it to make millions.

Friday’s openings: Jokes, guns and riches

Besides a couple of star vehicles, the week's openings include a pair of curiosities. (Note: Beginning Friday, the Magic Lantern is closing for a week.) Friday's movie openings are as follows:

"Demolition": Following the death of his wife, a guy (Jake Gyllenhaal) deals with his grief by slowly taking apart his life. (Isn't there an app for that?) 

"The Boss": After going to jail for insider trading, a formerly rich businesswoman (Melissa McCarthy) attempts to make a financial comeback. (By, what, running for president?)

"Midnight Special": After discovering that his son has special powers, a man (Michael Shannon) attempts to dodge the government agents tracking them both. (Interesting note: Shannon starred in a 2011 film titled "Take Shelter," pictured above.)

"Hardcore Henry": Resembling a first-person shooter game, this sci-fi-themed film follows the struggle of a man to recall his lost memory. (Perfect for your PlayStation 4.)

Springsteen took us down to ‘The River’

The first time I saw Bruce Springsteen was sometime in the 1990s. I'd first heard of him in the early '70s from a couple of guys who'd just moved to San Diego from New jersey. But other than the song "Rosalita," I was underwhelmed. For some reason, Springsteen just didn't speak to me.

Things happened over the years. I left San Diego for graduate school in Eugene (do I have to add "Ore." to that? seriously?), got my first newspaper job in Cottage Grove (yes, Ore.) and then, as the '70s evolved into the '80s, I moved to Spokane, went to work for The Spokesman-Review and settled into a decade of listening to the bands that MTV made famous — but still didn't develop an affection for Springsteen.

Then came the '90s and major life changes. After those changes settled, I met a woman who, having attended the Camden, N.J., school Rutgers University, was well familiar with everything the E Street Band had to offer. She'd attended at last one show of every tour the band had put on. She'd even been to Asbury Park.

So when the opportunity came to buy tickets to a Springsteen show at the Tacoma Dome, I — with a little urging from my friend Leslie Kelly — got on the phone and managed to purchase tickets. Which, as luck would have it, placed us in the 10th row. And gave me the opportunity to see what all the fuss was about: the energy, the showmanship, the poetry of Springsteen's lyrics.

It was those lyrics that spoke to me most last Thursday night when we caught Springsteen at Seattle's KeyArena. We weren't in the 10th row (which was all people standing anyway), but we were seated directly across the arena and so the sound was good, the sightlines were clear — and, in any event, the large-screen TVs made viewing easy.

And for the first two-plus hours, the band played the entirety of Springsteen's "The River" album. Then they went into a greatest-hits set, which lasted for another near-two hours. At least that's what I've heard. We were scheduled to catch a 12:50 a.m. flight to New York, so we had to leave early — and, yes, we missed the appearance by Eddie Vedder.

But I did come to appreciate what I learned that first night that I saw Springsteen at the Tacoma Dome: Nobody works harder than this guy. And after the show, I went back to look at the lyrics of "The River" and was struck by the power of the man's poetry. Especially this line:

Now those memories come back to haunt me
they haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don't come true
Or is it something worse

I came late to Springsteen fandom. But I made it here. And I'll go see him as long as he has enough energy to take the stage.

Chances are that I'll drop before he does. 

On Friday, feel the “Embrace of the Serpent’

Vancouver, the British Columbia city that sits north of Seattle, offers many treats to the visitor. Not the least of those is a user-friendly film festival that comes in the fall (usually bridging the last week or so of September and on into October).

It was at that festival last year that my wife and I saw the Oscar-nominated film from Colombia "Embrace of the Serpent" ("El abrazo de la serpiente"), which opens Friday at the Magic Lantern. We were two of the film's most ardent supporters when the question came up as to whether the film should be shown as part of the 2016 Spokane International Film Festival.

But, really, don't just take our word that the film is worth seeing. It earned a 99 percent Tomatometer reading. Here are some other critical voices:

Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic: "Wholly original and brand new, director Ciro Guerra's 'Embrace of the Serpent' immediately feels like some kind of lost classic, a movie that has been around for a long time but only talked about in film circles, finally unearthed."

David Edelstein, New York Magazine: "It's another in a long, honorable line of films that chart the poisonous effects of colonialism on indigenous populations and their ecosystems, but with an unusually invigorating perspective, like a reverse-angle 'Heart of Darkness.' "

Stephanie Zacharek, Time Magazine: "The majesty of nature is 'Embrace of the Serpent''s true star, and Guerra captures the glory of every leaf, every inch of sky, in pearlescent black-and-white as luminous as the lining of a clamshell."

Guerra's film didn't win the Oscar (which went to the Hungarian soul-crusher "Son of Saul"), but it — as you can see — is well worth a view.

Friday’s openings: More than one eye in the sky

From military philosophizing to Hollywood satirizing, the week offers a bit of something for every kind of movie fan. The week's movie openings are as follows:

"Eye in the Sky": A U.S. military drone attack is disrupted when a small girl wanders into the kill zone. What results is a kind of cost-benefit analysis.

"I Saw the Light": Tom Hiddleston stars in this biopic of the late country singing star Hank Williams. Perfect that the guy best known for playing Loki in the "Thor" movies should star a the guy famous from the song "Your Cheatin' Heart."

"God's Not Dead 2": This sequel to the 2014 original explores what happens when a teacher tries to discuss Jesus in her classroom. Perhaps she goes in search of three wise men?

"Meet the Blacks": This satire on the "Purge" films centers on a newly rich African-American family that forsakes Chicago for the wealthy L.A. suburb of Beverly Hills. And, no, the patriarch is not named Jethro.

And at the Magic Lantern:

"Embrace of the Serpent": A clash of cultures occurs when two scientists, decades apart, encounter the same South American shaman while searching for a medicinal plant. Nominated for Best Foreign Language Oscar.

‘The Bronze’: a study in raunchy laughter

If you haven't yet seen the comedy "The Bronze," you might want to read my review to know just what you're getting into. Following is the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

It’s hard to find anyone who admits being a fan of the network sitcom “The Big Bang Theory.” It’s far easier, in fact, to find savage commentaries about the long-running series. Yet that show has been one of CBS’s leading ratings-earners since its debut in 2007, so somebody is watching it.

In 2009, the actress Melissa Rauch joined the cast, mostly as a romantic interest for the character played by Simon Helberg. Over the years, though, even as a supporting player, Rauch has proved to be one of the show’s more dependable comic presences.

Which is part of what makes “The Bronze” – a movie that Rauch co-wrote with her husband Winston – such a surprise. The character that Rauch plays in the film is nothing like the sweet and common-sensical character she plays on “The Big Bang Theory.”

In “The Bronze,” she plays Hope Ann Greggory, the home-town sweetheart of Amherst, Ohio, who owes her celebrity to a brave showing in the 2008 Olympics, in which – despite an ankle injury – she performed a Kerri Strug-like dismount to win a Bronze medal.

But Hope is no ordinary hero. Or, save for her past athletic achievements, no hero at all. Profane, selfish and perpetually adolescent, Hope is stuck. She’s like the once-talented toddler who never grew up yet still coasts on the cuteness of her younger self. Hope lives with her father (played by Gary Cole), still wears her Olympics warm-ups, demands (and mostly receives) freebies all over town – and what she can’t get free, she feels free to steal.

Enter Maggie (played by Haley Lu Richardson), the new girl with talent enough to make everyone forget that Hope ever existed. Even worse, Maggie is being trained by the same heavily-accented, Bela Karolyi-like coach who once had worked with Hope, before the two had a falling out.

The narrative arc of “The Bronze” has Hope being presented with the opportunity to coach Maggie, which she does at first with reluctance – even with a promised monetary reward – but then with purpose.

This, then, would seem to be a standard story, especially when the screenwriting Rauches introduce “Silicon Valley” star Thomas Middleditch as an unlikely, if good-natured, love interest. But a couple of things set “The Bronze” apart. One is the succession of lewd jokes, most either voiced by Hope or made at her expense and most of which use the f-word more often than a Tarantino film.

The second is the direction by first-time feature filmmaker Bryan Buckley, an award-winning commercial filmmaker who shows enough talent to make his a name to note.

Neither of these qualities is enough to make “The Bronze” much more than an average laugh-fest, as long as you find humor in rampant raunch and one of the more athletic and R-rated love scenes ever put on a mainstream movie screen.

But Cole is a dependable comedy-drama presence, Middleditch gives new meaning to the term “Twitchy” and Rauch shows that when “The Big Bang Theory” finally runs its course, she might be the one cast member with a movie future.

Social media and the military: The value of not knowing

One of the toughest aspects of military duty involves foreign assignments. Being away from friends and family long-term assignment is typically tough on everybody. But it's especially tough on those personnel who are married and/or have children.

During the Vietnam era, for example, phone calls were basically unknown (though if you were on R&R, you might — for a price — find a way to call home). So communication was confined to letters, which — depending on how remote your outpost was — might come once a week.

Today, of course, the situation is far different. Internet access, and the whole range of social, has changed pretty much everything. But is that change all for the good? Lisa Silvestri would say no. Ot at least not necessarily.

Silvestri, an associate professor of communications at Gonzaga University, is author of the book "Friended at the Front: Social Media in the American War Zone." Silvestri will read from her book at 7 tonight at Auntie's Bookstore.

During her reading, Silvestri will no doubt explain what she sees as the downside of social media as it affects military personnel. But as a preview, consider this quote she provided to the University Press of Kansas website: "I’m most worried about the broad emotional spectrum they are forced to occupy; thinking about OPSEC and mission safety on one hand and about how their kids got in a fight at school on the other.  In previous generations, our troops were more 'protected' from home-front concerns."

Being "protected from home-front concerns" of course, is a euphemism for being kept ignorant. Who knew ignorance was a gift?

Friday’s openings (redux): Sally Field returns

Now that the final movies bookings are in, we can … well, look to the future. Only one new mainstream movie is being added to the films I listed on Monday. The rest of Friday's openings are:

"Hello, My Name Is Doris": Sally Field stars as the title character, a frumpy sixty something woman who attends a self-help seminar, which causes her to think romantically about a younger colleague.

And at the Magic Lantern: Still pursuing a program of recent Oscar nominees, the Lantern opens Best Picture winner "Spotlight."

So, you know the drill by now. Go. See a movie. And enjoy.

Invitation to tea at Silver Spoon Tea House

The timing for tea could not have been better.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been making may way through a Sullivan Entertainment re-watch of its most noteworthy television productions, the 1985 adaptation of “Anne of Green Gables” and its 1987 sequel, and the spin-off series, “Road to Avonlea.”  

My older sister and I just about wore out the VHS tapes used to record the series during our annual free trial of The Disney Channel in the mid-90s (which might be the most mid-90s sentence I’ve ever written), and I’ve been happily borrowing the DVDs from Spokane Public Library, now that VHS and VCRs are virtually obsolete.

By happenstance, my sister invited me and our mother to tea time at Silver Spoon Tea House, along with a friend and her family this past weekend. In the Queen Anne-style mansion on the lower South Hill, we enjoyed fresh blueberry scones with clotted cream and lemon curd, savory soups and crepes and a tower of tasty finger sandwiches, decadent desserts and fresh fruit. Anne Shirley herself could not have imagined a more elegant spread.

Assortment of sandwiches, dessert and fruit at Silver Spoon Tea House.

Our group also enjoyed six pots of tea, served in painted rose china, of course. With a 3-page tea menu, we had difficulty choosing, but were delighted by the variety from traditional Darjeeling to a literal Garden Basket tea with fragrant fruits and flowers.

While I'll never give up my 21st-century “girls' nights” with craft beer or cocktails, an afternoon escape into the pomp and circumstance of high tea is a fun retreat from the bustle of the modern grind.

Friday’s openings: Superheroes and a Greek sequel

Battling superheroes and Greek jokes are on the tentative movie docket this week. The main movie openings scheduled to open Friday are as follows:

"Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice": Zack Snyder ("300," "Man of Steel") directs this story, summed up so succinctly in the title, of a galactic being with super powers coming in conflict with, among others, a human vigilante equipped with a very cool bag of tricks. First question: Ben Affleck as Batman? Second question: Seriously?

"My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2": Apparently the world didn't get enough Greek stereotypes in Nia Vardalos' 2002 original (or in the short-lived 2003 TV sitcom) because, as IMDB announced, "A Portokalos family secret brings the beloved characters back together for an even bigger and Greeker wedding."

I'll have the final listings, including the Magic Lantern, when they're made available.

‘Colliding Dreams’ offers a balanced view

The documentary "Colliding Dreams" opens today at the Magic Lantern Theater. Following is the review of the film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

In a world that seems to grow more polarized by the day, some issues don’t feature much of a middle ground. Abortion, for example. Or restrictions on the Second Amendment.

Near the top of any such list, you’re likely to find disparate attitudes toward Zionism, which the Jewish Virtual Library defines as “the national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel.”

Take what Mahatma Ghandi had to say: “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs.”

In contrast, we have former Israeli diplomat Abba Eban, who once declared, “There is no difference whatever between anti-Semitism and the denial of Israel's statehood.”

Zionism, and all that term implies – for good and bad – is the topic that documentary filmmakers Joseph Dorman and Oren Rudavsky explore in “Colliding Dreams,” a study in balanced storytelling that opens today at the Magic Lantern Theater. And by balanced, I mean that the film doesn’t indict or excuse Zionism so much as attempt to explain it.

As such, Dorman and Rudavsky have created something that is ambitious in intent – covering more than a century and a third of history in just over two hours – if a bit dry in execution.

Unfolding like a college survey course, “Colliding Dreams” provides a historical overview, keying on events such as 19th-century European immigration, the 1947 United Nations vote to partition Palestine, the Six Day War of 20 years later, and the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Dorman and Rudavsky detail the work of such 19th-century social theorists as Theodor Herzl, the Austro-Hungarian journalist who was one of the first proponents of what would become modern Zionism. They document, too, the changing nature of the Zionist movement from one that focused on founding a home for Jews to founding a home exclusively for Jews.

Yet the filmmakers do strive to be fair. They augment everything with contemporary interviews that incorporate a wide range of diverse views.  Included in the film’s ongoing dialogue are both members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Orthodox Jews, both secular Jewish writers and Palestinian scholars, not to mention various on-the-street comments made by residents of Tel Aviv.

One notable interviewee is former Israeli minister of education Yuli Tamir, now a peace activist, who proclaims, “All national myths are fictions. For Jews, for Arabs, for Christians. It's all fiction. Nothing is true … that's the myth of nationalism; it really works. Like love, people are ready to die for it.”

The refreshing part of all this is, of course, the inclusion of these different opinions. Furthermore, “Colliding Dreams” – for all the fatalistic implications of that title – does offer some sense of hope, a feeling that, ultimately, time may yet soften the hard edge of history.

Time, as has been said more than once, does tend to be on humanity’s side.