The Intouchables

What a pleasure to review a film when I don't have to "reach" for good things to say. This heartwarming R-rated comedy is based on a book which tells the true story of two wildly different men who find a common ground and build an enduring friendship based on mutual respect. It was clear from the very beginning that the audience was invested in the story and I loved hearing gales of laughter throughout the theater from beginning to end. Audiences at the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival voted this the Most Liked selection.

In this award-winning film from France (English captions), a wealthy aristocrat is paralyzed from a para-gliding accident and has hired many health-care worker/nurses who find caring for a wealthy quadriplegic too intimidating. A chronically unemployed immigrant from Senegal goes for an interview simply to get his application signed so he can continue to receive public assistance. He tends to be a little rude and doesn't show much respect or pity for the patient, who finds his lack of pity refreshing. The rest, as they say, is history.

We enjoy:
  • François Cluzet ("Tell No One") is the aristocrat. His new nurse/ attendant is like a splash of cold water right smack in the face (which is the only part of his body with any sensation)!
  • Omar Sy ("Micmacs") is the irrepressible nurse who starts out by stealing a Fabergé egg, so he isn't exactly a saint. His incredulity at his first opera is infectious and we all laughed along with our two heroes. And you've gotta see this guy dance!
  • Anne Le Ny ("Declaration of War") is charming as the woman who runs the house, the staff, and knows everything. Her slow but steady thaw is so gratifying.
  • Audrey Fleurot ("Midnight in Paris") has two of the funniest scenes with the nurse, and you don't expect it either time.
As a wrap-up, they include a couple of clips of the real fellows who were depicted in this film. That is very nice. Once again I have proven I am not an artiste. This satisfying little film has no aspirations to Art (capital "A"), but instead to Entertainment, which is where my discretionary spending money goes. Yes, I OWN this one.
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Snow White and the Huntsman

Once upon a time... Here we go again! This time we are in a Computer Generated kingdom across The Pond with most of the wizardry done in Pinewood Studios. Along with awesome castles and battling armies, CGI gives us a Forbidden Forest right out of "Princess Bride": with trolls, tree limbs that turn into snakes, quicksand, ponds belching sulfur and rocks that are swarming beetles. In addition it attaches the heads of well-known British actors to dwarf bodies!

Look at this cast:
  • Kristen Stewart ("Twilight" trilogy) of course is Snow White, orphaned but beloved by the people in her kingdom. Once the magic mirror tips off the wicked queen, Miss White is to be sacrificed so the queen will remain "the fairest in the land."
  • Chris Hemsworth ("Thor") is our eponymous huntsman, sent to track down our fugitive heroine in trade for his captured wife.
  • Charleze Theron ("Hancock") is the wicked queen...and never has this particular queen been quite so wicked! This is Theron's movie!
  • Sam Claflin ("Pillars of the Earth") is our heroine's childhood heartthrob. He's all grown up, handsome and still loves her.
  • Ian McShane ("Deadwood"), Bob Hoskins ("Made in Dagen- ham"), Ray Winstone ("Hugo"), Nick Frost ("Hot Fuzz"), Eddie Marsan ("Sherlock Holmes"), Toby Jones ("Captain America"), and Brian Gleeson ("The Eagle") are the dwarfs!
Our heroine dies from that apple, and while a grieving man hovers over her, we are thinking "For crying out loud! Just kiss her!" Once she is resurrected (no, this is NOT a spoiler, you learned this story when you were a child!), she morphs into a quasi Joan of Arc with armor and a sword, leading an army of loyalists.

This is a CGI-heavy movie with an international cast: Theron was born in South Africa, Hemsworth in Australia, Stewart in the USA and most of the rest in the UK.
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My Dad is Baryshnikov

This charmingly unpredictable 2012 Seattle International Film Festival entry from Russia (English captions) is fun from the first arabesque. We have Boris, a gawky geeky misfit being bullied in a Moscow high school ballet class. It's 1986 and Russia is mired in a lengthy un-winnable war in Afghanistan, perestroika is just beginning and the Soviet Union is on its last legs.

Out of a combination of ego and desperation, our inept dancer fixates on his bootlegged VHS tape of Mikhail Baryshnikov in White Nights and decides he has solved the mystery of his long-absent father. His father disappeared about the time the ballet superstar defected to the United States, so... voila! Of course when he mentions this outrageous theory to his classmates, they roll him up in a rug and leave him in a classroom.

He supplies black-market blue jeans to students in the Bolshoi and one thing leads to another. He lets slip his "parentage" and because he can emulate some of Baryshnikov's patented moves, he actually is accepted in the Bolshoi. The instructor seems more interested in the ballerinas than in trying to teach our hero, and the rehearsal pianist furtively reads fashion magazines during class.

You will love his youthful exuberance; his mother, who teaches English (and does some private "tutoring" on the side); and his Jewish grand- parents with their dill pickles and pleas for fresh meat.

You will never expect the ending, despite shades of 42nd Street for awhile! (Remember the eager understudy and the injured star?)

We exited the theater with big smiles. Spacibo!


Every country has, in its history, a record of indigenous people and how they were treated. Argentina is no different and because it is relatively young, that treatment is ongoing.

This 2012 Seattle International Film Festival entry from Argentina (English captions) allows us to become acquainted with a family: the father is mostly absent, the busy mother is overworked, and the children are various ages, with the eldest a daughter whose fifteenth birthday is fast approaching. One of the quiet hard-working pillars of this group is an indigenous domestic worker named Yolanda. "Nosilatiaj. La Belleza" follows her situation.

We see:
  • Rosmeri Segundo as Yolanda, whose Wichi grandmother instruc- ted her never to cut her hair. She proudly wears a thick wonderful braid far down her back as she cooks, cleans, washes clothes and generally keeps the household running smoothly while living far from her own family.
  • Ximena Banus is Sara, the proud head of this busy household; she is a demanding but fair employer. She keeps a dozen irons in the fire while planning her eldest daughter's important Quinceañera. (Watch the look of pride on her face when the girl starts her dance.) A secondary thread begins when an earthquake shakes a nearby area. People are alarmed that there may be a stronger, closer one.
  • Camila Romagnolo is the fourteen-year-old girl Antonella, who is the perfect out-picturing of Argentina's complete lack of under- standing or respect for the Wichi culture. Her upcoming birthday celebration is the only important thing in her life.
This film started so slowly and with such a placid voiceover I began to nod (it's my fifth week of screenings). Then I noticed that the people, and particularly Yolanda, had insidiously slipped under my skin and I began to care very much how she was overlooked, disregarded and generally taken for granted.

The final scene is a SLAP!

The Most Fun I've Ever Had With My Pants On

What's this about? About 95 minutes, that's what! And it feels like about 195! It's no mystery how they got funding for this inane piece of bunk: The title and the locations! The clever, catchy title harkens back to some- thing I swear I read from Woody Allen decades ago, but I could be wrong. I know it's been around for a long, long time.

The locations are spectacular: The Mojave, with its astonishing wind eroded rocks; Sedona, with its incomparable red rock formations; Route 66, with its prickly pear and ocotillo cacti; a Pow wow with its inevitable tourists; White Sands, New Mexico, where our heroine does snow angels in the sand; and Austin, Texas with it's beautiful river and handsome downtown. But nothing ever happens at any of these places.

In this 2012 Seattle International Film Festival submission from the U.S., we have two young women on a trek from Los Angeles to Austin, to spread the ashes of one's father along the way. Their idea of fun is to shoplift unnecessary items, have a "gun battle" using stolen fireworks, engage in vacuous conversations while smoking an endless supply of pot, and consider the possibility of being lesbians while one of them, an actress, prepares for an audition.

The best part of the entire film was the opening blank screen with Willie Nelson singing an a cappella version of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. It went downhill as soon as the song faded out.

Please save yourself the 95 minutes. I'll never get mine back!

BTW, this film was the LEAST liked film at the Seattle International Film Festival...out of almost 500 films!

Prime Time Soap

"A Novela das 8," a 2012 Seattle International Film Festival from Brazil (English captions) was a disappointment in several ways. We knew we would see an interconnected story that links a maid, a prostitute, a diplomat, a revolutionary and a gay teenager, but for some reason, when I read that Dancin' Days, a disco-themed soap opera on television would be an underlying leitmotif, I expected a comedy.

We start in Sao Paulo, 1978, with the prostitute and her maid, but after a client dies, they quickly hop into a Volkswagen and head out for Rio de Janeiro. As things escalate we become aware of the military dictatorship that has the country in a stranglehold and what some of the citizens are doing about it. In addition, we watch a man receive his father's ashes from a mortuary and we see a teenager who is at odds with his father because Papa "hates fags."

Some things stood out:
  • Throughout this film, Director Odilon Rocha made extremely clever use of mirrors.
  • Excellent performances, particularly Vanessa Giácomo as the prostitute, and Claudia Ohana as the maid.
  • The worst captions I've ever seen (and I watch telenovelas!). The contrast is consistently poor, so the captions are almost unread- able.
  • It's funny when the diplomat dumps his father's ashes on the teenager who is sunbathing on the beach below.
  • Watching an actor or actress transform from one persona to another is always satisfying. Watch the prostitute and the maid.
The captioning fiasco really detracted from this melodrama that features political dealings, romance, police brutality and family issues. I wish I hadn't been so frustrated.

6 Points About Emma

Emma has just been struck by the baby blues: she really, really wants her own child! Problem is, our eponymous heroine is in her late 20s, beautiful, independent and blind. This 2012 Seattle International Film Festival entry from Spain (English captions), features award-winning performances from some remarkable actors.

In "Seis puntos sobre Emma" we see:
  • Verónica Echegui ("The Cold Light of Day") is brilliantly con- vincing as our lovely young woman; there was not a moment when I suspected she was not blind. Emma has no plans to fall in love or get married, that would only complicate things, she just wants a baby!
  • Antonio Velásquez ("I Want You") is the neighbor's unemployed brother. He immediately falls for the lovely Emma.
  • Àlex Garcia (Lots of TV) is a facilitator for the group therapy sessions attended by our heroine. He unwittingly has been nominated to be a sperm donor for our heroine.
  • Mariam Hernández (Lots of TV) is wonderful as the wheelchair- bound paraplegic who wonders if it would be okay to hire a gigolo "just for the experience."
  • Nacho Aldeguer (Lots of TV) convinced me that he was a very "slow" young man.
  • Mabel del Pozo (Lots of TV) thinks she should be called "a person who is functionally diverse" instead of "handicapped" ...and she'd like that gigolo's phone number!
Clever use is made of a disembodied voice who talks with our heroine regularly on the phone. This allows her to talk about what's going on and how she feels about it without the director resorting to a voiceover.

Some of us really liked this one, others not so much... One fellow made a really good point about her makeup in some scenes: How does a blind woman do such a meticulous job? Hmmm... YOYO (You're On Your Own).


Diaz - Don't Clean Up This Blood

In the summer of 2001, the G8 summit in Genoa, Italy was winding down when 200,000 anti-globalization activists gathered to protest the new policies. This triggered fierce police retaliation which, based on subse- quent lawsuits and trials, inspired this fictional re-telling of the grim events that unfolded.

Our 2012 Seattle International Film Festival screening audience was mostly silent as we filed out of the theater; we were beaten into submission just by watching the police as they mercilessly beat, kicked, bludgeoned and raped the unresisting protesters with their nightsticks. It kept occurring to me that there must be another side to the story because every single protester was portrayed as intelligent, sensitive, dedicated and honest.

Even thought this was a scandal of world-wide proportions, a few weeks later, 9/11 in New York City captured the world's attention and thousands of demonstrators in Genoa were quickly forgotten despite one death and the brutal treatment of the protesters trapped in the Diaz-Pascoli School.

Remember our notorious 'Battle of Seattle' when we hosted the World Trade Organization in 1999? Everything was fine here until the anarchists arrived from Eugene, Oregon and all hell broke loose! From my Seattle perspective I noticed in the dialogue when they mention the arrival of anarchists in Genoa, so I wasn't surprised when the violence began.

In my opinion, this would have been more effective if the brutality had been toned down a bit. After so much cruelty, we finally became numb! Overkill can be overdone...


Lola Versus

A fellow in line before one of the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival press screenings made the observation that we are seeing much more amorality in films lately: People stealing stuff simply because they want to, not out of need; People using other people simply because they can, not because they care; Self-absorbed people sitting around contemplating their navels simply because someone else pays their bills, they don't have to work.

Despite this being an audience-pleasing romantic comedy, those things kept buzzing through my brain. Our heroine may be attractive and funny (the actress has a lot of Lucille Ball in her style), but she is self-obsessed, uses her friends, and takes what she wants when the notion strikes her.

Now I'll get off my soapbox and discuss the audience-pleasing part:
  • Greta Gerwig ("Arthur" 2011) Lola gets dumped three weeks before her wedding. Her friends and family all try to help but NO one suffers like she suffers!
  • Hamish Linklater ("Battleship") Henry is the kind of friend every gal needs...she just needs to pay closer attention to him.
  • Zoe Lister Jones ("The Other Guys") Alice is always there when she's needed, and sometimes when she's not... Her self-absorp- tion is legitimate, she's an actress!
  • Joel Kinnaman ("Safe House") is the dumper in this one. All those wedding plans made it seem too real.
  • Debra Winger ("In the Woods") Mom has trouble understanding her daughter's angst. Maybe being a hippie "back in the day" wasn't so bad after all....
  • Bill Pullman ("Bringing Up Bobby") Dad is full of bumper-sticker aphorisms, not very helpful, but they make HIM feel good....
  • Cheyenne Jackson ("Price Check") only has one scene but I'm always tickled to see a former Seattlite on the big screen.
The theater was jam-packed with young adults who hooted and laughed all the way through. The dialogue is witty and the theme is topical: It's a jungle out there for singles!
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170 Hz

This dreary art piece depicts a romantic duo in their late teens who happen to be deaf. Each is defiant in his or her own way: He urinates in the window of his father's new Jaguar, while she just huffs off to her room during dinner. Obviously he has bigger issues than she.

Because this is artistic, we are subjected to lingering super-close close- ups of eyes, lips, shoulders, hair, etc., plus wheat fields, sunsets and cityscapes. Our star-crossed lovers are, of course, forbidden to see each other, so they go to great lengths to defy their parents. In addition, the boy is bullied at school and very nearly drowns one of his tormentors, so we know he is capable of great violence.

We see:
  • Michael Muller (in his first film role) is Nick, a swimming com- petitor and an angry teenager who fixates on the only kindred soul he has ever known.
  • Gaite Jansen ("Sonny Boy") is Evy, who wants to have his child so her parents can no longer keep her away from him.
After they run away together, they take shelter in an abandoned sub- marine anchored in the harbor. Along with lengthy scenes of lovemaking, we watch a slow-motion paint fight and numerous dim scenes of them traversing the gangway of that rusty old tin can. They do unforgivable things to one another, then seem to laugh it off. I guess love is blind.

To me, this capably done 2012 Seattle International Film Festival entry from the Netherlands (English captions) is Art, NOT Entertainment! (At least I wasn't entertained.)


This Irish entry to the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival seemed to appeal more to guys than gals (it's sci-fi), but I couldn't help but notice that all the people I spoke with were smiling... That's a good sign!

We have a young man who just wants to be ordinary, but his father's hologram keeps urging him to find an Earth woman to marry and propa- gate their dying species for their home planet. Personally, he'd like to ignore Dad, get a good job and find a nice young woman to date, but the wormhole which made it possible for them to first come to Earth, soon will open again, so time is running out... (Is someone following our hero? Is that hologram real?)

We enjoy:
  • Rafe Spall ("Anonymous") is just an ordinary Joe who under- stands his importance to the revolution taking place back on his home planet...he thinks....
  • Jenn Murray (Lots of TV) seems to be the perfect mother for his children, if they should live so long!
  • Stephen Hogan ("Flat Lake") is Joe's new boss...maybe...
  • David Morrissey ("The Other Boleyn Girl") seems to be a hologram of Dad, who has to trust his son's judgement.
Children's toys figure prominently in this story and they become more and more vital.

This is NOT Art, it's Entertainment!

Winter Nomads

Gleaners have traditionally been viewed as good-luck charms dating back to Biblical times, and this interesting documentary features 800 sheep gleaning leftover crops from harvested fields. Switzerland's "Hiver nomade" follows the transhumance (seasonal movement of livestock accompanied by humans) of a flock of sheep throughout the French-speaking Swiss countryside during a four-month trek.

Take 800 sheep, 3 patient donkeys, 3 hard-working dogs, 2 shepherds and 1 eager puppy, then send them out on a 4-month migration designed to fatten the sheep for market using nothing more than passing fields and pastures.

Several things impressed me:
  • No ropes; nothing to lead the donkeys, no leashes for the dogs, no fences for the sheep. All the participants flowed from one grazing site to the next as a unified whole with the dogs trimming the edges and keeping the flock together.
  • Generosity; property owners along the way made our group of nomads welcome, explaining where the best grazing could be found and offering hospitality along the way.
  • Gourmet food; our folks dined on truffles, fondue, pâté de foie gras, local wines and other mouth-watering contributions from local residents.
  • Obliging motorists; at times this mass of animals had to use roadways and overpasses. We saw patient motorists and townspeople gawking at this unique sight.
  • Two bellwethers (ewes who wear bells and lead the flock) knew their own names! Of course they were first trained with bits of bread, but to see them come when called was amazing.
  • This 54-year-old shepherd and his 28-year-old (female) apprentice seem to have an interesting relationship. He is a stern taskmaster and she wanted a job in the outdoors. Hmmm....
Ever since my parents explained The Gleaners, a painting by Jean- François Millet which hung on their bedroom wall on our farm in South Dakota, I've had an interest in this marvel.


Golden Slumbers

This 2012 Seattle International Film Festival documentary from Cambodia and France (English captions) offers terrific insight to the recent history of Cambodia. Cambodia enjoyed a thriving film industry from 1960 to 1975, producing over 400 very popular films. As life became more and more hazardous, Cambodians attended more and more movies as a way to divert themselves from their alarming reality.

Although the films were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge, the music from these no-longer-existent classics is still a standby for Karaoke nights in Phnom Penh. As Pol Pot's armies emptied the cities, theaters were destroyed, ordinary citizens were forced to the fields and forests to provide manual labor, while actors, wealthy families, politicians, policemen, community leaders and other prominent people were assassinated. We see a spooky clip of Phnom Penh after Pol Pot emptied the city; later in the film we see the thriving metropolis that has rebounded.

One theater building that had been gutted now shelters 116 families huddled in its hulk. We see two devoted cinephiles who discuss old movies they saw when they were boys. They actually had more fun than we did as we watched them reminisce.

We found the most engrossing part of the film to be the first-person narration of events from a few survivors. One brief clip shows a man declining an invitation to dance with a woman, explaining that his wrists weren't flexible enough. The dance that followed certainly illustrated why flexibility would be essential! The paltry number of film excerpts are so scanty we can scarcely draw any conclusions from them. Instead the men and women who related their own tragic experiences were far more interesting.

The Standbys

This one is for theatre lovers everywhere! In fact, the screening audience members even learned the difference between an understudy and a standby. An understudy is a cast member already working in the show who can step in if a particular actor is incapacitated; a standby is paid to be on-site, ready to take over a principal role if needed. BTW a "swing" can take over any number of roles to backfill behind the understudy and is ready for anything. One of the actors said, "I can't get my head around that one!"

In this fascinating documentary, we follow three individuals:
  • Merwin Foard ("Les Miserables" and "The Addams Family") married his co-star when he was Curly and she was Laurie in a production of "Oklahoma" over 20 years ago. He has chosen a career over stardom because he is happy raising a family.
  • Aléna Watters ("West Side Story") can burp on command, has an amazing vocal range and developed her own one-woman show. She is in the original cast of "Sister Act," currently on Broadway.
  • Ben Crawford ("Beauty and the Beast") finished out the run of "Shrek" in the title role for the Broadway show, then was forced to audition for the tour.
These under-appreciated, highly talented musicians are loved and loathed by their peers. They are revered for their talent, but NO one wants to see them go on stage because it would mean something has happened to the star, and most stars would DIE before they would allow that!

Current Broadway stars are interviewed about this demanding job and they have nothing but respect and admiration for them. Featured are: Cheyenne Jackson, Sutton Foster, Zachary Quinto, David Hyde Pierce, plus various agents, managers, casting directors and Broadway experts.

It is clear that this is a heartbreaking business and no one knows that better than "The Standbys." I loved every minute of this 2012 Seattle International Film Festival documentary from the USA.

First Position

This documentary follows six young ballet students who vie for awards in the Youth America Grand Prix, a prestigious contest for youngsters from 8-19 years old. Like with any good documentary, we become acquainted with each contestant, his or her family background, his or her teacher/ coach and hear their dreams and expectations.

These children are featured:
  • Aran Bell is a hot little entertainer. He loves ballet more than anything but falls pretty hard for that pretty little gal from Israel.
  • Gaya Bommer Yemini is the lovely dancer from Israel. Her Copellia is wonderful!
  • Michaela DePrince is a determined orphan from Sierra Leone. Her adoptive family has made her lessons possible and they are devoted, supportive (and proud!) parents.
  • Miko Fogarty has a Tiger Mom and an entrepreneurial dad. Dad says he doesn't have to feel guilty about his long hours because his kids work harder than HE does!
  • Joan Sebastian Zamora was inspired by Cuban ballet star Carlos Acosta and he is the first dancer from Columbia to make it to the finals.
  • Rebecca Houseknecht is the double-jointed California Barbie doll who is trying to validate her talent and beauty through hard work, pain and dedication.
Of course we meet the families and have our favorites. That is true also of the coaches. By the time the awards are given out, we are really invested in the outcome.

We are happy we stayed through the credits because they added post- scripts to each contestant's story. What a nice thing to do!
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Free Throw

Our screening audience at the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival actually applauded at the end of this one...and we're a tough crowd!

It's March, 2011. We follow eight high school students in Compton, Cali- fornia whose names have been drawn in a lottery. They were among 80 seniors who qualified to submit their names, based on their GPA and their desire to go to college. The contest is a basketball Free Throw showdown and the prize is a $40,000.00 scholarship.

Over the course of this documentary, we become acquainted with faculty members, students and the contest coordinator, who engineered this from the beginning, including all of the fund-raising that made it possible.

The high-school principal is clear: "Compton has an image problem!" He is determined to change that by altering his students' expectations and their long-term plans. Other faculty members are equally devoted to elevating their students' grades, their deportment and their confidence.

Among the students we have:
  • Omar, the grandson of a recently naturalized citizen;
  • Diana, is aware that teachers usually direct minorities to community colleges. She's grateful it isn't that way at Compton!
  • Alex, a boy who spent years in Ghana and spoke only French when he came to Compton;
  • Donald, an upbeat optimist who is convinced that a quick prayer will probably help (he gave his shoes to a needy classmate - his mom can't fault him for that!);
  • Arturo has been raised by his abuela and his padre (his screen saver is his dream house);
  • Elizabed who quickly becomes pregnant and has to leave the competition;
  • Efran is the sixth child in the family and his was the sixth name drawn, he thinks that will bring him luck;
  • Victory is a lovely, vivacious young woman who will do well at whatever she tries.
We watch them practice their free-throws for weeks. Their principal says it isn't luck that makes a winner; it is practice, focus and determination.

As in most successful documentaries, there is a twist at the end that left us sooooo impressed! Plus they report "What Happened Afterwards" on each of the contestants. What a welcome feature THAT is, because we have come to care about each of these youngsters.


If your life depended on an organ transplant in ten days and the donor was in jeopardy because of an unpaid debt, you would do everything in your power to make sure nothing bad happens! Right? This excellent thriller from South Korea (English captions) surprised our 2012 Seattle International Film Festival audience. It was more complex than we antici- pated and we became more involved than we expected. In addition, it was capably shot and the acting was convincing.

We saw:
  • Jeong Jae-young ("Castaway on the Moon") as Tae Geon-ho, an extremely successful debt collector. He is well-groomed, hand- some, efficient, and very, very effective. He never smiles..... and he always collects! After he quits his job, he decks his smarmy boss, then bows politely before he leaves!
  • Do-yeon Jeon ("My Dear Enemy") is the clever Cha Ha-yeon, a con woman par excellence, with a shady past and a shining future. She had her virginity surgically restored because it suited her. She's glamorous, wealthy, cunning, cold...and in jail.
One day, after a successful debt collection, our hero passes out and awakens in the hospital. The doctor tells him he has liver cancer and has ten days before complete liver failure. Of course he gets a second, third and fourth opinion, but the news is very bad. Transplant surgery must be done in just over a week for him to survive.

Five years earlier his teenage son died. Dad can't remember how it happened because his mind has repressed the memory, but he uses his skip-tracing skills and tracks down five recipients who were given his son's organs. He wants to convince one of them to share a portion of his or her liver out of gratitude. He strikes out until he discovers that the gal just getting out of jail has his son's heart.

Now things begin to happen! We have gangsters, vehicular mayhem, abandoned children, handicapped parents, a ship with hostages, and fisti- cuffs, as allegiances twist, promises break and chaos reigns. This was unpredictable and exciting.


The Woman in the Fifth

Is there a category for "head scratcher?" "La femme du Vème" is a brooding suspense thriller which takes place in Paris' 5th arrondissement (a political division in a French city).

This French/UK entry (English captions) to the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival offers plenty of suspense, enough thrills (for ME!) and we walked out scratching our heads. What more can we want?

We watched:
  • Ethan Hawke ("Sinister") as an American author who arrives in Paris eager to see his six-year-old daughter. After her mother stridently objects (she calls the police!), he leaves and, because he's jet-lagged, wearily gets on a bus. At the end of the line someone awakens him and he discovers he has been robbed. With no money and no luggage, he is in a very awkward spot.
  • Samir Guesmi ("Tell No One") is the owner of a seedy, rundown hotel/bar where he offers our hero a room and board in exchange for a suspicious job. Our guy has to relinquish his passport to get the job.
  • Joanna Kulig ("Elles") is the barmaid in that seedy joint where our guy lives.
  • Kristen Scott Thomas ("Salmon Fishing in the Yemen") is a mysterious woman who lives in the 5th arrondissement. Our hero meets her at a literary party (she translates books for authors) and she is forthright in her invitation to drop by.
This film is beautifully shot, faces are lovingly examined, the Paris under- belly is graphically recorded, and for some reason, we saw many close- ups of odd insects on trees in a nearby park. We were all talking as we left the theater trying to discover what each person thought had hap- pened.

Welcome to Doe Bay

Doe Bay is an inlet in Orcas Island, one of Washington State's idyllic San Juan islands. This USA entry made its world premier at the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival.

In 2008, some music devotees were bemoaning the evolution of estab- lished music festivals, in which big sponsors have overtaken the integrity of the music. As one of the promoters says, "Size matters! In this case, smaller is better!" Seattle musicians accepted an invitation to come to Orcas and see what happens. This documentary records it for posterity.

Four years later they are so quickly sold out they realize that they will be forced to disappoint a LOT of fans, but they aren't willing to yield to the Catch 22 of Success and create venues that would destroy the intimacy and passion that the musicians and their fans have come to cherish.

It's fun to watch city slickers struggle to set up their tents, throngs of folks sway and clap to their favorite bands, and people picnic on the beach.

We hear ballads, rock, rap, hip hop, indie folk rock and some music that defies a category. We see dozens of musicians in flannel and hoodies; tattooed, bespectacled, bearded, long-haired, short-haired, clean-shaven, or female. We saw white, black, Hispanic and Native American. They played guitars (both acoustic and electric), fiddles, violas, cellos, bass viols, mandolins, banjos, drums, flutes, keyboards, kazoos and a shovel!

The fans mostly stood, although there was a time or two where they actually sat (on the ground, not in chairs). This festival is not for the faint of heart!

Only time will tell how this particular music festival survives the acid test of success.

Coteau Rouge

Quebec submitted this goofy little black comedy for the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival (English captions), and we were diverted from the very beginning, as we watched a father and son dump a corpse into a river for disposal, then eat lunch as they sit in the boat and chat. Evidently there is a huge sturgeon that lives in the river and it never leaves a trace.

"Coteau Rouge" ("Red Slope") is the name of a marginal community targeted for an upgrade by a shady real estate developer who is pres- suring the residents into selling their old family homes so he can gentrify the neighborhood. But these folks don't take pressure without a fight!

Because we jump back and forth in time, it got a little confusing, but I think some of the characters are:
  • Paolo Noël ("Sticky Fingers") is the grandfather who used to make his living disposing of bodies for the Mob. Now he picks up rubber bands because they are bad if they get into the drains and are consumed by the sturgeon that still lives in the river.
  • Gaston Lepage ("Frisson des collines") is his son, who struggles along running a gas station and garage.
  • Louise Laparé ("Frisson des collines") as his wife, right now she is serving as surrogate mother for their spoiled daughter so she won't have stretch marks!
  • Céline Bonnier ("French Kiss") is that daughter. She pretends to have morning sickness and wears a prosthesis baby bump, but her husband is a wealthy developer and she's a trophy wife.
  • Roy Dupuis ("Cyanure") is that developer. He's cunning and successful, but...
  • Mario Saint-Armand (in his first film) is a grandson launching eco-friendly services in a nearby upscale community. He mows lawns with push mowers and dries sheets for pay on the family clothes lines so they smell good!
The men play pétanque, which is like the Italian bocce, while they discuss changes in the neighborhood and what they are going to do about them.

This is unpredictable, funny and highly entertaining...but tres French.


Monsieur Lazhar

This award-winning PG-13 dramedy from Montréal (English captions) is in its final week in local theaters, so I've pretty much limited you to rentals or your favorite library to see this wonderful film. If you have ever had anything to do with teaching or school administration, you will relate to this story about an Algerian immigrant who volunteers to teach a class of 11 & 12 year olds after their teacher hangs herself in the classroom.

Of course grief counselors, psychiatrists, etc., are dispatched to help the children cope with this sudden and shocking calamity, while their new teacher makes careful observations and tries to use his own personal loss in order to help. It's clear that the school principal is trying her best to do what is necessary for her students, but school policy as a result of recent court rulings and militant parents make her job challenging. E.g., teachers aren't allowed to touch the children in any way; coaches can't offer physical contact to their pupils; teachers can't embrace children in need of comfort or congratulations, and the absurdity of overreaction is obvious.

In addition, we smile as our hero struggles to adjust to an alien culture, e.g., watch him try to be polite when offered some Rice Krispie Treats. His class is quickly attuned to his adjustments; even though they might laugh, they help him nonetheless. His methods are archaic because they are based in Algeria, so the students help him with those, as well.

I won't name the actors but let me stress that these are attractive capable professionals who will win your heart for their characters. You see the teacher's pet, the bright one, the class clown, the petty bully, the sickly child, the "slow" student and the whole litany of stereotypes we all remember from our own school days.

We end up caring deeply what happens to each person and we know them all on a personal level. These are all good reasons why this was nominated for a 2012 Academy Award and won numerous film festival awards along with being nominated for many more. This is an enter- taining, worthwhile film, particularly for educators, parents or anyone who was ever a student.
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Here is a link to a preview:
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What to Expect When You're Expecting

The best thing this sub-par Chick Flick has to recommend it is the cast, so let's start with that:
  • Cameron Diaz ("Bad Teacher") has a weight-loss reality show on TV and has just won a Dancing With the Stars-type contest.
  • Matthew Morrison ("Glee") is the professional dancer paired with Diaz for that contest, and they really "paired up!"
  • Chris Rock ("Grown Ups") has all the advice for new fathers. His oldest boy is the toddler who is a walking catastrophe! We couldn't help but laugh at some of his predicaments.
  • Jennifer Lopez ("The Back-up Plan") is a professional photo- grapher who can't have children, so she talks her husband into adopting.
  • Elizabeth Banks ("The Hunger Games") has tried repeatedly to get pregnant, then succeeds by mistake. It's HER experience that is central to this movie.
  • Ben Falcone ("Bridesmaids") is the sweet husband who has been "performing" by the biological clock. He is saddled with an ultra-competitive father.
  • Dennis Quaid ("Footloose") is Falcone's irritating father. Every- thing is a contest and he is the ultimate Alpha male!
  • Brooklyn Decker ("Just Go With It") drives us all nuts because she is gorgeous, smart, practical and does everything with dis- arming ease...Grrrrrr.....
  • Chace Crawford ("Gossip Girl") is a handsome food-truck oper- ator confronted with an unexpected pregnancy from a one-night stand.
  • Anna Kendrick ("Up in the Air") runs a competing food truck and comes to regret that one-night stand!
You can see by the size of this cast that they know the plot is flimsy, contrived and lame.

Star Power to the rescue? Maybe... But once again I'm complaining about the anatomical detail. Isn't there at least one body part they can leave out of the dialogue in a PG-13 movie?
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Here is a link to a trailer:
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How to Steal 2 Million

NO. Not that wonderful Audrey Hepburn romp from 1966. No, this is a Shoot-em-up from South Africa that started out sounding to our 2012 Seattle International Film Festival audience, like a Philip Marlowe/Sam Spade film noir. You know, slow-moving, super-macho oneupmanship, black and white photography, deadpan delivery, rain-swept streets, wry voiceover... It has the same dry humor, e.g., when our lonesome ex-con invites a woman into his pitiful digs, she looks at the wash basin by the door and says, "I like what you've done with the place."

About midway through, it became involving. We saw:
  • Menzi Ngubane ("In My Country") just served five years in prison and is determined to go straight.
  • Terry Pheto ("Tsotsi") is living by her wits, taking whatever job will pay best.
Even though our hero did time, he never betrayed his cohorts; our hero- ine has a child to raise. These two are fighting with a short stick. They are out-maneuvered, out-gunned and (almost) out-witted. The more we learn about them, the more we root for them, and you know ME: I have to have someone to root for!

As the double-, triple-crosses pile up, my head started spinning, "That's HIS dad?" "She knew HIM?" "You wanted him to do WHAT?"

This is an involving crime drama, not outstanding, but certainly better than many!

The only trailer I found has too many spoilers, so you'll just have to do without.


An atrocity like this could give a film festival a bad name!

This entry from Australia initiated that classic Second Inning Sneak, where almost half of the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival audience slowly and quietly exited the theater. I stuck it out to the bloody end, but only because I was filling my notepad with pejoratives that I now realize I can't use in a PG-13 review.

What set me off (that I can print!):
  • Unattractive people doing unattractive things to other unattractive people.
  • Drug use. (This supposedly is semi-autobiographical!)
  • Bewildering (and extended!) use of unintelligible light and sound.
  • Teeth: false teeth, missing teeth, dirty teeth.
  • Tattoos, each lovingly presented with its history.
  • Grisly scenes of torture and murder.
  • Dirty scraggly hair; in their mouths during sex, over their eyes and sometimes floating overhead....
Had enough of this Art (not Entertainment)? I sure had!


The 2012 selection from France/Italy "Impardonnables" left our Seattle Film Festival Audience with a mild sense of dissatisfaction. We had spent time with attractive, successful people who seemed to have a hollow core. They were very progressive in their views on infidelity, drugs, sexual experimentation and lifestyle, but by the time it was over, we didn't much care.

Our two main protagonists are:
  • André Dussollier ("Tell No One"), a widowed author suffering from writer's block. He rents an island with a vineyard near Venice and proposes marriage to the real estate agent while making the deal (whereupon she gets a nosebleed). He is alienated from his daughter but his granddaughter loves visiting him.
  • Carole Bouquet ("You'll Miss Me"), the bisexual real estate agent. She is a former model and is a lovely woman indeed. Not only that, she's fairly smart and takes him up on that proposal.
This is a beautifully shot film with capable actors playing attractive people, but after possible shady deals, affairs and a suicide attempt, they just seem empty. I feared for the granddaughter because she perks up when she overhears someone say that her mother only disappears to get people to search for her. But that fizzles out, too. I suppose you could do worse...

I didn't find a trailer with English captions, sorry.


Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson ("The Royal Tenenbaums") has done it again. Another observant, quirky, absurd little comedy that breaks all the rules but leaves us entertained and happy. This 2012 Seattle International Film Festival entry from the U.S.A. starts on a dual track. After a voiceover tells us about this remote island we'll be visiting, we meet the Bishops, father, mother, three sons and one 12-year-old daughter. Next we visit a super-efficient Khaki Scout camp and watch the scoutmaster in action. His star scout is a 12-year-old misfit who frightens the other boys.

We enjoy:
  • Bill Murray ("Get Low") is the deadpan dad, who just wants to read the newspaper.
  • Frances McDormand ("Burn After Reading") is the (not very faithful) mom who communicates with her family via bullhorn.
  • Kara Hayward (in her first film) is their chronically depressed daughter who has decided she wants to run away with...
  • Jarad Gilman (in his first film) an orphaned Khaki Scout with a keen interest in the indigenous population, along with great (unneces- sarily complicated) survival techniques.
  • Edward Norton ("The Invention of Lying") is the scoutmaster who makes amazing demands on his scouts, all of which they are able to meet!
  • Bruce Willis ("Red") represents the local constabulary. He wears white socks and is having a fling with Mom.
  • Bob Balaban ("No Reservations") is the narrator who introduces the players, the situation, the geography and then the Depart- ment of Infamous Weather.
As our two twelve-year-olds disappear into the woods together, we are on a countdown to an unprecedented weather front which will hit this New England island community in two days. That provides a natural climax to this goofy little thing.
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Click the "Skip Ad" to watch this preview:
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Year of Grace

This sweet little comedy "Any de Gràcia," is a 2012 Seattle International Film Festival entry from Spain. It was written and directed by Ventura Pons, who commands an impressive list of nominations and Film Festival awards throughout the world.

We watch a young man with big dreams set out to seek his fortune. This time the Promised Land is Barcelona, Spain. The young men in his village watch with a mixture of envy and skepticism. Our hero finds free room and board with a lonely old woman who needs some help around her apartment but these two have some major challenges as they adjust to each other's expectations.

This is predictable in an unpredictable way, in other words, we have a pretty good idea where we are going to end up, but have no idea how we are going to get there.

Our two main protagonists are:
  • Oriol Pla ("Animals") is David, our starry-eyed adventurer; he paints, plays guitar and fancies himself quite the ladies' man.
  • Rosa Maria Sardà ("Maktub") is Grace, the elderly curmudgeon; she likes to play cards, loves her parakeet and dumps water on noisy folks in the street below her apartment.
David makes friends in the city and at college, while Grace is friends only with her neighbor. She doesn't like the bartender downstairs because his customers get unruly in the evening. Her elderly parakeet Pinocchio is a really GOOD watchdog!

This is pleasant and satisfying: no sweaty bodies, no gunshots, no car chases and no blowie uppie stuff. ...smile...

The Eye of the Storm

This is a big comfortable star-studded family drama that takes place in Australia. It is based on a novel by Nobel laureate Patrick White. A wealthy dowager is in her final days and her two estranged adult children have come to say goodbye (and hear the reading of the will!).

Two things struck me: the delicious editing (three flaws are camouflaged in quick succession, for three different characters: a blotch on the skin, a "ladder" in a stocking, and a spot on a jacket); plus the award-winning production design (e.g., our dowager's wig and wrap are color coordin- ated with the furnishings). This 2012 Seattle International Film Festival entry from Australia is witty, professional and satisfying.

Many Australians are in the cast, I'll only talk about three characters:
  • Charlotte Rampling ("Melancholia") is the dowager. She is still the master of phony affection, loves private entertainments, and is proud of her "elegant sluttiness." Rampling is NOT Australian.
  • Geoffrey Rush ("The King's Speech") is her son, a washed-up actor, living on past glories. Wait until you hear him do King Lear standing in a muddy stock tank! Yup, he's an Aussie.
  • Judy Davis ("To Rome With Love") is her daughter, a divorced, impoverished has-been (at least she got to keep the "Princess" title). Davis too, is from Down Under.
These three heavy hitters are in their glory. Director Fred Schepisi ("A Cry in the Dark") uses them well despite an overly melodramatic third quarter. After all, those two children are only trying to "simplify" their dear mother's life by declaring her incompetent and claiming their inheri- tance early. Her long-time attorney has a major role and I was deeply grateful for his level-headed honesty!
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Here is a link to a trailer:
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The Impostor

Imagine this: a blond-haired, blue-eyed Texas boy goes missing. Almost four years later, a brown-haired, brown-eyed young French-Algerian man is identified by Interpol as the missing boy. Better yet, his grieving family accepts him as their son and brings him "home" to Texas. It's hard to swallow the absurdity of this situation.

Some documentaries are truly stranger than fiction and this 2012 Seattle International Film Festival entry from the United Kingdom certainly makes the point. In my opinion, this is a faux documentary inspired by real events but the actors who provide background scenarios are excellent! They really seem authentic; at least they fooled ME. And as the twists started twisting, everyone got even better!

We saw:
  • Adam O'Brian (in his first film role) as Frédéric Bourdin, the "Impostor" of the title, who says, "The only thing I have in common with that Texas boy is that we both have five fingers on each hand." This stage-trained Welshman also sings.
  • Anna Ruben ("The Fallow Field") is Carey Gibson, the gullible sister who flies to France to bring her younger brother back to Texas.
  • Alan Teichman (in his first film role) was my favorite, the down- home, good-ol-boy, self-motivated detective, who uses the shapes of ears to identify people!
Director Bart Layton ("Locked Up Abroad") specializes in Documenta- ries, so this one augmented by a few actors is close enough. This award-winning film comes to Seattle fresh off a Grand Jury Prize for Best Docu- mentary at the Miami Film Festival.

You really have to stay with this one for the remarkable payoff.


This 2012 Seattle International Film Festival entry from the Netherlands and Spain features a star-making turn by a young actress who is fear- less, sexy and beyond a doubt, the skinniest young woman I've ever seen on screen! But our after-screening discussion included so many negative responses to the story itself, I was surprised. At least I had laughed when she and one of her dates met a friend of his while walking and she pretended to have Tourettes.

We watch a troubled young woman looking for love in all the wrong places while living with her still-handsome father. Her parents never married, so she knows nothing about her deceased mother, and her doting, wealthy father has spoiled her from infancy. Their relationship borders on incestuous and they are as enmeshed as any pair I've ever had the displeasure to watch.

We have:
  • Hannah Hoekstra ("Doodslag") is the gorgeous Hemel ("Heaven") but her tawdry life makes me happy to be living such a mundane one on this side of The Pond! The many vignettes that illustrate her nightly escapades ultimately become boring...you know, if you've seen one, you've seen 'em all...
  • Hans Dagelet ("Swchwrm" - spelling verified) is that charmingly handsome father. You never for a moment doubt his devotion to her and he never steps out of line, but...
By the time he lovingly carries her sleeping body to the bathroom so she won't wet the bed, I'd had enough. Talk about a convoluted relationship!



For the life of me I can't understand why this 2012 Seattle International Film Festival entry from Canada (Quebec) is called "Wetlands." In fact, "Marécages," is a film about the realities of living on a dairy farm in Canada during a drought. Despite having a swampy marsh on the pro- perty (which we see only once), a big issue is drilling a well that never strikes water.

A father, mother and teenage son are a hard-working family trying to make a go of their dairy. An accident has a devastating effect on all.

We see:
  • Pascale Bussières ("Suzie") is the wife/mother. The first time she thrust her hand into that cow's back end to retrieve a dead calf, I began wondering if this was the career path she envisioned when she started out to be an actress. Her character works non-stop with the milking, gardening, cooking, cleaning, etc., etc., etc. Oh, and she's pregnant.
  • Gabriel Maillè ("Yamasaka") is the son. He works hard, is a bit confused sexually and has started to clash with his parents (he's a teen). He often finds shelter with his grandmother and her girl- friend.
  • Luc Picard ("A Sunday in Kigali") is the husband/father. He weeps when that calf is stillborn and is at his wit's end about money to keep the dairy afloat.
  • François Papineau ("Route 132") is the strapping big fellow who had been passing by and rushes in to help when the accident occurrs. Then he sorta stays....
Because I spent my early life on a farm, I must commend director Guy Édoin for his authentic depiction of the hard-scrabble life these people live. I also got a kick out of the line-dancing, fiddles and Stetsons when two of our folks take a night off. Yee Haw!

Just remember this film is life with no frills, so situations and solutions aren't often pretty. Expect nudity and non-consensual sex, with English captions.



Without exception, religious rituals and customs everywhere in the world seem weird and inexplicable to unbelievers, while they offer comfort and security to their adherents. "Aujourd'hui," a 2012 Seattle International Film Festival selection from Senegal, certainly proves my point.

Our main character is a strong young man who wakes up knowing this is the last day of his life. Everyone in his town knows the situation and tells him goodbye in a variety of ways. (None of which I could relate to.) Each episode takes its own sweet time and the pace is positively glacial!

I couldn't help but notice that our hero, Satche, played by New-York born Saul Williams, could easily pass for a close relative of Denzel Washing- ton. That fact alone, kept me watching the film, unlike many SIFF mem- bers who grabbed a quick nap during this endless film. There was very little action or dialogue, so their snooze was uninterrupted. Whew!

This unrated film has no sex, no profanity, no sweaty bodies, no gun- shots, no car chases, no blowie uppie stuff or anything else that might capture our attention (or wake us up). And yes, it has English captions. ...Yawn...


The program for the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival selection states that this shy 13-year-old boy learns some harsh lessons. My main concern was: What did he really learn over the course of this violent, bloody day? (This film is not yet rated.) After discussing this with other audience members, we were unclear....

We watched:
  • Michael Rainey Jr. ("Un Altro Mondo" for which he learned to speak Italian) is our hero, living with his grandmother and dazzled by his smooth-talking, fine-dressing, handsome ex-con uncle, who helps him ditch school for the day.
  • Common ("New Year's Eve") is slick Uncle Vincent who refuses to work for anyone else, he wants to be his own boss. Since he got out of prison, he hasn't made many friends, so he takes his hero- worshiping little nephew along to "learn the ropes."
  • Dennis Haysbert ("The Unit") is one of the brothers Uncle Vincent visits with his wide-eyed nephew in tow.
  • Danny Glover ("Mysteria") is in charge of the deal that allegedly will make Uncle Vincent rich enough to start his own crab shack on the waterfront in Baltimore.
  • Michael Kenneth Williams (Omar in "The Wire") is a Baltimore cop who is hot on the trail of Uncle Vincent and his nervous nephew.
  • Lonette McKee ("Dream Street") is our little hero's grandmother. She knows her son is lying in his teeth even as she signs the papers for that second mortgage.
As this violent day draws to a close, our thirteen year old has learned how to wear a suit, shoot a gun and drive a car. I realize he's still a child, but when I considered his situation just before the final credits, I'm afraid he might have learned the wrong lessons.

If you see this one, please let me know what you think.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

"Your call is very important to us. Please remain on the line..."

This starts us off with a smile which rarely fades in this lovely PG-13 comedy gem. Here are gathered the most dependable war horses of British cinema. What a treat! And as a bonus, a trip through the color and chaos of modern-day India as seen through the eyes of seven senior citizens caught up in major culture shock. Each of our principal players is going to Jaipur for his or her own reason: to find a lost love; to look for a rich maharajah; to find a cheap place to live; to rejuvenate a marriage; to get a new hip; the reasons are as diverse as the people.

We have:
  • Judi Dench ("As Time Goes By") Told to imagine her audience naked to overcome her stage fright: "I think I'm a bit past all that..."
  • Bill Nighy ("Blow Dry") After failing to fix a leaky water tap: "Now that I've got the hang of it, do you have anything else I can NOT fix?"
  • Maggie Smith ("Downton Abbey") In response to the National Health Care's six-month wait for a new hip: "Six months! At my age, I don't plan anything that far ahead. I don't even buy green bananas!"
  • Tom Wilkinson ("The Debt") In answer to the question, "What do you see out there?" he beams, "Smiles!"
  • Penelope Wilton ("Match Point") Sitting in the stifling, self-im- posed exile of her room, "How can you STAND it out there?"
  • Ronald Pickup (lots of TV) When asked the advisability of sex for senior citizens, "Well, if she dies, she dies!" He is an aging wanna- be gigolo who can get an astonishing amount of "action" from two aspirin!
  • Celia Imrie ("Cranford") Thinks she's got enough "it" for at least one more go at landing a wealthy husband.
  • Dev Patel ("Slumdog Millionaire") Trying to recapture his de- ceased father's dream: "Everything will be all right in the end. If it's not all right, it's not the end."
  • Tena Desae ("Yeh Faasley") Joins the pantheon of gorgeous stars formed in the Bollywood galaxy. We love her as she trains at a call center and copes with disapproval.
Each character is in one crisis or another but no ends are left dangling. This is a satisfying and entertaining look at a country most of us will never visit but which intrigues us, nonetheless. We see remnants of the old caste system, while we recognize remnants of a new one which flit by, unnoticed; AND we appreciate the skill with which each old pro com- mands his or her moment in the spotlight.
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Here is a link to a preview:
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Dark Shadows

When the opening credits played to Nights in White Satin, I was done in! To have a creative pair like Johnny Depp and Tim Burton collaborate again is like getting a big gift with a bow on it. We couldn't wait to open it and see what treats we had in store! This time it's a high-concept comedy.

Late in the 18th century, handsome young Barnabas Collins was the object of unwanted affection from a witch who, out of spite, turned him into a vampire, had him enclosed in a chained casket and buried for 196 years in the New England woods. After a construction crew unearths the casket and cuts the chains in 1972, he is free to vamp about and quench a powerful thirst! Along with seeing that his once-grand family estate has fallen into ruin, Barnabas is nonplussed by horseless carriages, McDon- ald arches and asphalt. There are endless opportunities to show that our hero is indeed, a stranger in a strange land.

These folks make it fun:
  • Johnny Depp ("Sweeney Todd") is courtly and confused. He has lost the love of his life, so he isn't above a little diversion with that seductive witch.
  • Michelle Pfeiffer ("New Year's Eve") is the current lady of the house, trying to hold together the family traditions and a nearly bankrupt fish-packing company.
  • Eva Green ("Perfect Sense") is that evil witch who was deter- mined to have him for all eternity, now she will settle for ruining the Collins family fortune and reputation.
  • Helena Bonham Carter ("The King's Speech") is the tipsy doctor/ counselor/psychiatrist (I couldn't tell) who seems to live in the Collins mansion.
  • Bella Heathcote (''In Time") is both Barnabas' true love from his youth and the family governess in 1972.
Some samples: Because they chose to set this production in 1972, the movies on the local marquee are Superfly and Deliverance. Karen Carpenter sings Top of the World while Barnabas tries to see how she got into that accursed box! He finds a lava lamp endlessly fascinating and is shocked to see that one secret chamber in the family "pile" is full of macramé. When Alice Cooper is hired to entertain, Barnabas takes one look and says "That's the ugliest woman I've ever seen!" As a red con- vertible approaches the Collins' mansion, the theme from A Summer Place sweeps through the theater.

This is a reminder that the Depp/Burton team is alive and well, despite some third-act problems which they camouflaged with lots of CGI and blowie uppie stuff. The screening audience was noisy, appreciative and highly entertained, so the sequel that seems to be hinted at, will also do well.
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Here is a link to a bit about balls:
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Sleepwalk With Me

My expectations were at rock bottom as I entered the theater for this USA entry to the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival. Of course anything better than that was a pleasant relief.

I was afraid this was a one-man show about sleepwalking, but instead I discovered that it is a scripted movie that happens to feature a stand-up comic and uses elements from his life, and has other, more well-known actors and actresses in the cast.

We see:
  • Mike Birbiglia ("Your Sister's Sister") is an ill-at-ease boyfriend who chafes at the idea of being a fiancé. He is a third-rate comic who aspires to the big time. The tough slog to success causes a major rift in his sleep and in his relationship.
  • Lauren Ambrose ("Wanderlust") is an erstwhile girlfriend/fiancée. If that's her real voice, she can sing! This character is so sweet, we'd like to see things go her way.
  • James Rebhorn ("Real Steel") is our hero's father, who talks over the top of everyone and has a plan in place for everything!
  • Carol Kane ("The Bounty Hunter") is accustomed to being talked over by her husband, but always adds, "...and another thing..."
Plus oodles of other familiar faces, as our young couple sorts through the issues that surface after a seven-year relationship...with no wedding. Of course both rely on friends and relatives for free advice, which turns out to be worth exactly what they paid!

The Mexican Suitcase

As we went into the screening of this 2012 Seattle International Film Festival documentary from Spain and Mexico, we thought we were going to learn about the Mexican Revolution. Instead, to our great surprise, we finally learned about the Spanish Civil War, which has mystified most of us all of our lives.

When Spanish revolutionaries defied the fascism of the ruling power in 1936, it launched a civil war that continued until 1939 after Generalis- simo Franco received political support from Nazi Germany, Portugal and Italy. Three Jewish photographers from Central Europe, Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and David Seymour, documented the first modern war in which civilians were specifically targeted. Gerda died on a battlefield, all three earned well-deserved fame (Capa is now called the "Indiana Jones of Photography"), and photo-journalism was born.

The Revolutionaries fled Spain and they made their way on foot across the Pyrenees. This diaspora huddled on the cold windy beaches of France and was refused entry to any country but Mexico. (Both Mexico and Russia had furnished armaments to the cause; in fact the bullets used by the Revolutionaries were called Mexican-skis, a witty blend of countries that can only be coined in the military!) Over 200,000 of them emigrated to Mexico, which welcomed them with open arms. (The patriots who chose to return to Spain were executed.)

In Mexico, one tearful immigrant explains why he helps excavate the mass graves (600,000 people died) that are found in Spain. "I have no grandparents because of this war. These people are my abuelas!"

It was long rumored that a valise existed which contained many nega- tives of photos taken by our intrepid photographers. This is the story of where it was found, what was in it, why a big exhibit featuring it was held in New York City, and how the Spanish feel about THAT.


Megan Griffiths' screenplay for this unrelentingly grim drama is based on the autobiography of Chong Kim, the young Korean-American teenager who experienced first hand this litany of horrors. Kidnapped by a well- organized gang and forced into a life of sexual slavery, we are horrified to see how brutally the girls are treated and how disposable they are when the gang decides their "shelf life" has expired. I was interested to note that the "Johns" are treated in a very neutral way. I guess boys will be boys....

We see:
  • Jamie Chung ("Sucker Punch") is out late with a girlfriend despite her mother's strict orders. Her kidnapping is sudden, violent and final. We see that she is smart and determined: she never loses her will to survive.
  • Beau Bridges ("The Descendants") is the good-ole-boy police officer who runs the slaves with an iron fist and a loaded gun. It always ups the ante when law enforcement is complicit.
  • Matt O'Leary ("The Fat Kid Rules the World") is the coke-head lieutenant who handles the day-to-day drudgery of managing all those slaves.
  • Naama Kates ("The 10 Commandments of Chloe") is the Russian whose "promotion" catches Eden's eye. If one young woman can get ahead, maybe it's possible for our gal, too.
Our heroine is called "Eden" because that is the name of the trailer park where her parents live. If she disobeys, they will be killed. As time passes, she develops a flint-hard shell and watches her captors carefully, looking for weaknesses. We, in the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival audience, watch just as avidly! We understand the resilience of the human spirit and believe there MUST be a way out....


Valley of Saints

This 2012 Seattle International Film Festival entry from India takes us to Kashmir, which is in a military, political and economic turmoil because neighboring countries still want to control it. We see a microcosm of the situation when we join Gulzar, a young man who lives with his elderly uncle but wants nothing more than to get out!

He is a tourist boatman who ferries paying customers around on Dal Lake, his home base, which is so polluted it is classified as a dying lake. He and his best chum plan to leave for Delhi while his uncle is away but their plans are stymied by a military crackdown and curfew.

During this hiatus, he volunteers to help a studious young woman who is researching the effects of antiquated sanitation and pollution on the lake. It has never occurred to him to question the local traditions which sys- tematically add to the problem. The "Saints" of the title are drawn from an old local folk tale which he relates to the researcher. When she asks if polluting the lake might anger them, he replies that "all the saints are dead." As he ferries her around, he begins to see a way to make life a little better without running away.

This film won the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize for 2012 and the Audience Award for World Cinema in 2012.

Las Acacias

Argentina has furnished me with two favorite films: "The Dancer and the Thief" and "The Secret in their Eyes," now I'll add a third. "Las Acacias" seems to be a Chick Flick, at least our opinions were divided along gender lines at this screening for the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival. One fellow (you know who you are!) likened it to watching paint dry, while a gal and I were rhapsodizing over the subtle hints of a smile or the gradual lift of someone's shoulder.

We are with Rubén, a long-haul truck driver who transports freshly cut timber from Asunción del Paraguay to Buenas Aires. He has been paid to carry a passenger this time: Jacinta, a woman on her way to a new job at her mother's place of employment. To his dismay, she has a five-month-old daughter in her arms. He keeps his end of the bargain, but has a lot of misgivings.

For some of us, these things may seem delicious, for others, not so much:
  • To hear maybe five minutes total of dialogue in this entire 85- minute film.
  • To watch two solitary people gradually make attempts at conversation.
  • To admire the skill with which that baby was directed: her eyes always watched the person she was supposed to be looking at, never at the camera; she cried on cue; she slept on cue; and right after he yawned, she did too, just like people really do!
  • To examine the adult faces for any sign of emotion. It takes him over half a day to offer even a hint of a smile...and that's toward the baby and is barely a hint.
  • To smile when the world's cutest baby objects to his smoke, whereupon he opens his window and tosses out the cigarette.
Not only is that baby amazingly well directed, but they have managed to capture the tedium of long-haul trucking. This truck ride is notable in it's authenticity! To us gals, the ending was worth the time we spent watching that slow, slow thaw between two solitary people who clearly have been through some hard times.
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This trailer has English captions:
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The Sex of the Angels

What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander." At least that's what I believe. For that reason, at times I was the only person laughing in my section of the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival screening audience. This entry from Spain, "El sexo de los ángeles," includes some nice views in Barcelona and offers closed captions in English.

Yes, this was a serious film about a torrid affair that turns into a second torrid affair, which evolves into a third...you know... The eternal triangle, with all three principals interested in each other. Some of us loved it, while others objected to the blatant nudity and/or drug use.

Here's what I liked:
  • The choreography at the beginning of this film that starts with Barcelona-based street entertainers. It was break dancing as done in a Bollywood musical: fast, skillful, clever and unique.
  • Appealing stars, particularly the men: Àlvaro Cervantes as Rai, and Llorenç Gonzales as Bruno.
  • The flaws in the double standard, when examined closely by today's more enlightened young adults.
  • The little gaggle of co-workers at our heroine's non-profit news- paper as they gossip, snoop, pry and otherwise stick their noses into her personal business.
  • The mother's reaction when she realizes that the apple didn't fall very far from the tree: her daughter is echoing her own choices.
All in all, in my opinion they could have cut some of the more lengthy sex scenes. To me, sex simply isn't a spectator sport; it's a lot like chamber music: it's way more fun to DO than to watch. Of course judging by the $ucce$$ of the porn indu$try, I'm in the minority on THIS one!

This reminded some of us of "3" a little German romance featured at SIFF last year, which had the same scenario. I reviewed it May 12, 2011. Proceed at your own risk....
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Here is a link to a trailer:
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How to Survive a Plague

This documentary by David France explores the early advent of AIDS, its impact on "Ground Zero" (in Greenwich Village), and the birth of the gay advocacy groups ACT UP and TAG.

Of course, given the topic, we know that many of those attractive, articulate and intelligent men we meet will be dead by the time the final credits run, but it is endlessly fascinating to see how smart the activists were and how quickly they learned everything they had to know in order to have credibility with the US FDA and with Big Pharma. They actually wrote the protocol for testing that surprised the federal agency with its professionalism and ease of application.

There are meetings in which the activists learn the art of the "sound bite" and are reminded to be passive and polite but express their outrage to any media in the area. It shows the ads they sponsored attacking Presi- dent George H. W. Bush, it shows a defensive Bill Clinton dressing down an activist and surprisingly, it shows Patrick Buchanan agreeing with an ACT UP spokesman as opposed to a government official.

Several pharmaceutical companies began working with them and along with a little success, came internal squabbles. In one clip, playwright/ activist Larry Kramer blasts them for their petty quarrels while "we are fighting a plague!"

Remember the AIDS quilt? The dumping of victims' ashes on the White House lawn? The Senate hearings? The Kaposi's Sarcomas? The advent of the three-way cocktail that ultimately saved thousands of lives? There is much, much more to see. I felt this 2012 Seattle International Film Festival entry was somewhat dated, but to the best of my knowledge, no one has documented the entire arc, so it's about time!

I'm happy to point out that this film is nominated for Best Documentary in the 2013 Oscars.


This 2012 Seattle International Film Festival drama from Russia is sooooo Russian! Our screening audience likened it to watching grass grow...

This is advertised as a thriller, but it is mostly a grim illustration of what domestic drudges are some diligent Russian women and how adolescent and demanding the heavy-drinking men can be.

The pace is glacial: e.g., looooong single takes that linger on someone turning off an alarm, then slowly waking up, stretching, dragging out of bed, putting on a robe, opening the curtains, looking out the window and then trudging out of the bedroom. ...Yawn...

Our eponymous heroine is a former nurse married to a wealthy man who isn't in very good health. When he mentions he wants to write a will and explains how he plans to divide his estate (between her and his grown daughter), she can't bear the thought of having less money to give to her grown son and his family. That the son is an unemployed layabout is completely unimportant to her and it's clear to us how he got that way!

Need I mention that she knows her way around pharmaceuticals?


Red Road

Imagine my surprise when I saw this quietly involving movie on the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival schedule. I first watched this engros- sing, upsetting, and ultimately satisfying little 2006 film on DVD from the Seattle library. (I loved the captions!)

"Red Road" takes place in Scotland. Our heroine, Jackie, played to perfection by Scottish-born actress, Kate Dickie, is an employee of the CCTV monitoring agency in her city (remember, the UK has the MOST electronic surveillance of any country in the world, with video cameras virtually in every corner of every city).

It is clear from the outset that she is emotionally frozen, but her obser- vations are astute and she shows a great deal of common sense and affection in what she reports to the police, the fire department, etc. In fact you will come to recognize some of the "regulars," e.g., the fellow with the elderly bulldog. She is clearly at arm's length with an older couple who seem to be former in-laws. You see that she is having a perfunctory affair with a married co-worker, though why, escaped me; she didn't seem to be getting much out of it...

During her shift, she thinks she recognizes a face. She makes a phone call to a friend in the police department and discovers that a man named Clyde, played by Tony Curran ("Miami Vice" and "The Good German") who was supposed to be sentenced to nine years in jail, has been given an early release for good behavior. This prompts our heroine to become, what looked to me, a stalker. We don't know why and her target is obli- vious to her attentions. Eventually, she deliberately gets acquainted with him and he is more than a little interested.

This actress isn't beautiful, but during the many, many close-ups and lingering shots of her face, her hair, her eyes, her body, etc., she begins to grow on you...as she does to the ex-con.... Be prepared for some explicit sex, but no gunshots, vehicular mayhem or blowie uppie stuff.

Although you might suspect what she is trying to do, you probably won't guess how she goes about it or what the end result might be. I was impressed!


The Do-Deca-Pentathlon

Testosterone poisoning is not to be underestimated, particularly when combined with sibling rivalry! This toxic combination almost destroys a family, a marriage and a father-daughter relationship. The 2012 Seattle International Film Festival ad reads: 25 Events, 2 brothers, 1 Champion.

Because of an old 25-event grudge match between two teenage brothers (which ended in a contested score), these fellows seem to be in a state of arrested development. One is a rootless professional poker player, while the other has a wife and daughter... and a psychiatrist... and a medicine cabinet full of prescriptions.

His family trip to Mom's for a birthday party is derailed by the appear- ance of the poker-playing brother, who immediately challenges him again, so they can scratch at that old festering scab. The wife is NOT amused!

We see:
  • Steve Zissis ("Cyrus") as our stressed-out hero, goaded by his brother into irresponsibility.
  • Mark Kelly ("Low Fidelity") as that goading, poker-playing brother.
  • Jennifer Lafleur ("Jeff Who Lives at Home") is the increasingly impatient wife.
  • Julie Vorus in her first film, is their mother...she's seen this before!
Written and directed by the busy Duplass brothers ("Baghead"), you can expect profanity, rude behavior and violent, self-centered guys. They square off in everything from miniature golf and Indian leg wrestling, to swimming matches and ping pong. I found the most tension in the arm- wrestling contest.

At least I was able to enjoy something in this R-rated dramedy....

Safety Not Guaranteed

This goofy little film starts at a (fictitious) magazine headquarters in Seattle. A writer is asked to investigate a classified ad which reads:

WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke.
You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons.
I have only done this once before.

The writer commandeers two interns to assist him and heads off to a small beach community on the Pacific Coast. In no time, he finds a "lost love" (the real reason he wanted to go!) and assigns the interns the task of looking into the local kook who placed the ad.

In this 2012 Seattle International Film Festival selection, we see:
  • Jake Johnson ("No Strings Attached") as the magazine writer. This character is singularly unpleasant: rude, self-serving, hedon- istic and given to mind-altering chemicals.
  • Aubrey Plaza ("Scott Pilgrim vs the World") is one of the interns. She is highly skeptical of this whole time-travel scheme, but wants the story so she can keep her job.
  • Karan Soni (Lots of TV) is the poor intern who gets stuck with the writer. His main flaw, according to the writer, is that he is a virgin.
  • Jenica Bergere ("Rat Race") is the writer's lost love. I was so glad to see that she has some common sense!
  • Mark Duplass ("Darling Companion") is the time-travel kook. By the time he is teaching our gal martial arts and small-arms skills, we ALL felt skeptical!
  • Kristen Bell ("Forgetting Sarah Marshall") probably only appeared in this cameo so the film makers could get financing.
BTW, the ubiquitous Duplass brothers have been all over Hollywood for over a decade. They act, direct, write and produce...pretty successfully, too. I'll bet their mother is proud!
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Here is a link to a preview:
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The Avengers

There ARE good movie makers out there and their names are Joss Wheden ("Firefly"), Zak Penn ("X-Men"), Jon Favreau ("Iron Man") and Stan Lee (Marvel Comics), among a legion of creative artists who made this happen. This actioner has great heroes, great pacing, great humor and LOTS (and lots and lots and lots...sigh...) of Computer Generated Imaging and blowie uppie stuff. The whole thing feels like an in-crowd joke because we know all of the characters so well their lines don't have to be hammered home, just a hint and we all get it. The main issue is that not one of these guys plays well with others.

Let's review these familiar faces:
  • Samuel L. Jackson ("Iron Man") is Nick Fury, the guy who is the through-line in these things. He isn't above a sly card trick or two...
  • Robert Downey Jr. ("Sherlock Holmes") is Tony Stark/Iron Man, no matter what Downey charges, he is worth the price. He is spectacularly good: his character is smart, funny and (fairly) decent.
  • Chris Evans ("What's Your Number?") is Steve Rogers/Captain America, this walking talking anachronism doesn't get any refer- ences newer than WWII (but he understands "Flying Monkeys" because Wizard of Oz came out in 1939). He is military through and through, a take-charge guy when the chips are down.
  • Mark Ruffalo ("The Kids are All Right") is Bruce Banner/The Hulk, the scientist in hiding from anything that might agitate him into transforming again.
  • Chris Hemsworth ("Star Trek") is Thor, come to Earth to retrieve his evil half-brother Loki, and save our planet.
  • Jeremy Renner ("Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol") is Clint Barton/Hawkeye, the archer who may or may not have a history with the Black Widow (in Bulgaria).
  • Clark Gregg ("(500) Days of Summer") is Agent Coulson, the glue that has held this group together through many of these Marvel movies.
  • Stellan Skarsgård ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo") is Selvig, the scientist who understands the Tesseract and the power it represents.
  • Tom Hiddleston ("War Horse") is Loki, the villain we love to hate. Just wait until The Hulk gets his hands on him!
  • Scarlett Johansson ("We Bought a Zoo") is Natasha Romanoff/ Black Widow, she has a lot of red in her ledger she is trying to erase.
  • Gwyneth Paltrow ("Contagion") is Pepper Potts. Iron Man's right- hand (wo)man.
All of the CGI action finally began to wear on me; sometimes too much is just too much! Our Friday matinee crowd was savvy: every one of us stayed put all the way through the credits to pick up the next little snip- pet we have come to expect from Marvel movies. By the way, I saw this in a multiplex with no IMAX and no 3D and it was terrific, so don't $pend too much for those extras.
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Here is a link to a preview:
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