Comrade Kim Goes Flying

Well HERE'S something unique! This is the first Western-financed fiction feature film (please excuse the alliteration) to come out of North Korea. Submitted by three countries: Belgium, the UK and North Korea, it also sports three directors: Anja Daelemans, Nicholas Bonner and Gwang Hun Kim. Our 2013 Seattle Film Festival Audience found this diverting and fun.

With bright color-washed visuals and unrelenting optimism, we are treated to the story of a precocious little girl who wants to fly; her mother encourages her dream. Ten years later, with her illusion still driving her, she takes a quick trip to Pyongyang to see the circus before beginning her profession as a coal miner. Her idol is retiring from her high-flying career as a trapeze artist and our audacious girl insists on auditioning. Problem is, she has acrophobia and didn't know it.

Going home in defeat, she now works with an attractive group of men and women (I kept expecting them to burst into song!) who love and support her. Through travails and hard work, we are reminded that her efforts are for the common good, not for the individual. The propaganda is so liberally laced into the dialogue the audience began chortling. We love our happy heroine with her perfect teeth, her cheery attitude and that adorable little smudge of coal dust on her flawless cheek, so we just KNOW we can expect a happy ending.

We left with goofy smiles on our faces.
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This terrific trailer is provided by SIFF:
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I Used to be Darker

What's it about? It's about 90 minutes! That's what!

With this inane bunch of malarkey, I ended up entertaining myself by writing down what some of the mumbled words sounded like to me, e.g, Anorexic quinsey. Try to make sense of THAT one! Yes, this entry to the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival from the USA triggered another Second Act Sneak, as folks with less intestinal fortitude bailed out of the theater.

We are supposed to relate to a young runaway (whose sentences tilt up at the end, like questions?) who has landed with an aunt in Baltimore just as THAT marriage is breaking up. Director Matthew Porterfield clearly wants us to relate to this aimless, unhappy waif, who refuses to call her mother in Ireland or to get along with her cousin. Eventually, we didn't give a rip.

We see:
  • Deragh Campbell in her first movie role, is Taryn, the girl most likely to be shuttled from one house that doesn't want her, to another.
  • Hannah Gross ("Wilby Wonderful") is Abby, the acid-tongued cousin. She's the daughter of one of my favorite Canadian actors, Paul Gross.
  • Ned Oldham (he is a musician) plays Bill, a former musician who has moved on to another, more lucrative career. His marriage is ending.
  • Kim Taylor (she is a musician) plays Kim, a working musician who is divorcing Bill but is still mother to Abby and aunt to Taryn.
Both Oldham and Taylor perform original pieces for this film and their fans are very happy. The rest of us...not so much. And no, I have NO idea how the title of the film relates to what we see.
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This You-Tube link is provided by SIFF:
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The Girl With Nine Wigs

In "Heute bin ich blond," my defense shields went up when our heroine is told she has a tumor on the pleura that encases her lung. This was exactly what my (now deceased) son was told in 1999, so I had a pretty good idea what lay ahead.

This German/Belgian entry (English captions) to the 2013 Seattle Inter- national Film Festival was engaging, entertaining and reasonably true to life. It should be: This story is based on blogs posted by Sophie van der Stap during her treatment for a rare form of cancer from which only 15% of the patients survive. Screenwriter Kati Eyssen prepared this story for Marc Rothemund's capable direction.

These actors brought the characters to life:
  • Lisa Tomaschewsky is Sophie (or Lydia, or Sara, or Sue, etc., it depends on which wig she's wearing), a lovely carefree young woman ready to take the world by storm until she sees a doctor about a persistent cough.
  • Karoline Teska is Annabel who takes her friend to a wig shop when they realize she is going to lose all of her gorgeous hair. She adds that this will also save her the expense of a Brazilian hair removal treatment.
  • David Rott is Rob, a good friend who is there when she needs him.
  • Alice Dwyer is our heroine's mother, herself a breast cancer survivor. This Tiger Mom is matter of fact and highly organized. She marches into the hospital with a box of personal effects and has her daughter moved in before anyone can blink.
  • Jasmin Gerat is Chantal, the breast cancer victim who befriends our gal during chemo.
I enjoyed the way the wig shop and the friends got with the idea of various wigs. They even told her when to change wigs because they couldn't get along with that one! Our gal makes the observation that everyone tells her she will live for another 100 years, then treats her like she'll be dead in a week!

Yes, I recognized the treatments, but wasn't traumatized by them. This is an upbeat, satisfying film.
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Here is a sample from SIFF:
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What Maisie Knew

This sweetly romantic, R-rated sleeper surprised us. Based on Henry James' 1897 novel, our 2013 Seattle International Film Festival screening audience was NOT expecting to see such a contemporary and satisfying story.

Co-directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, we were skillfully manipulated into caring a LOT about a little bitty girl in a great big city.

Here is the cast:
  • Onata Aprile ("Law & Order") is Maisie, an obedient, compliant, smart little girl who happens to be the battlefield between her warring parents. They don't want custody of her so much as they want to hurt each other!
  • Julianne Moore ("30 Rock") is Susanna, a shallow, possessive, rude mother who showers her little girl with kisses, then drops her off with strangers so she can pursue her own career.
  • Steve Coogan ("Ruby Sparks") is Beale, Maisie's promiscuous, selfish father who showers his little girl with gifts, toys, and furniture, but leaves her with an au pair (whom he soon marries) and goes on a trip.
  • Joanna Vanderham (Lots of TV) is Margo, the loving, dependable au pair who has the poor judgment to marry Maisie's father.
  • Alexander Skarsgård ("Disconnect") is Lincoln, the handsome, kind bartender who moves in with Maisie's mother.
I was constantly reminded of the saying: "Actions speak louder than words." As we watched two self-centered, superficial people shuttle our little heroine back and forth, all the while proclaiming their devotion to her, we couldn't help but want to shuffle the deck a bit. Any fool could tell what would be best for Maisie!

Don't miss this one!
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Hurrah! Here is a preview:
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The Trials of Muhammad Ali

"Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee." We ALL remember those iconic words by the Louisville Lip, don't we! Some said he was "Waved through the tollbooths of life."

In this USA entry to the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival, director Bill Siegel takes us from a 12-year-old Cassius Clay in Louisville who started boxing at a local gym, to a fragile Olympic torch bearer ravaged by Parkinson's. This documentary sweeps us from his controversial conversion to the Muslim religion (rejecting the name Cassius Clay), to the day when President George Bush granted him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

We remember his:
  • 1959 Golden Gloves Championship;
  • 1960 Olympics Boxing Championship;
  • 1964 Conversion to the Nation of Islam;
  • 1968 Refusal to be drafted, citing the Pacifism of Islam;
  • 1970 Defeat of Jerry Quarry;
  • 1971 Supreme Court ruling (and reversal) in his case;
  • 1974 Rumble in the Jungle with George Foreman;
  • 1996 Honorary Torchbearer for the Olympics;
  • 2005 Recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
All of these events (and more!) are surrounded by insightful (and humorous!) interviews. I doubt if anyone is neutral on this man. I found the Supreme Court ruling particularly intriguing and blush to confess that I had forgotten all about it.

This is an interesting and informative documentary about an articulate and irrepressible man.
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No preview, sorry.
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The Almost Man

If you find it hilarious to watch a grown man pick his own nose and then smear the booger into a friend's hair, this one is for YOU!

Personally, I find it endlessly irritating to see what is billed as a comedy turn out to be an exercise in exasperation. We watch a perpetually juvenile man resort to immature behavior because his wife is pregnant. At least that is his alibi. Actually, that behavior was there before: watch as his friends do the towel snapping bit in the locker room after a round of handball. But now that adulthood should be right around the corner, I see no hope for our hero.

As we exited the theater, a friend and I discussed his wife: What in the world did she ever see in this overgrown boy? Why did she allow herself to become pregnant? When will she admit to herself that they have NO future? She can do soooo much better!
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Here is a SIFF sample:
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Yesterday Never Ends

"Ayer no termina nunca" (English captions) is endless! This award-winning endurance test from Spain triggered a minor Second Act Sneak from our 2013 Seattle International Film Festival screening audience as frustrated moviegoers quietly slipped away. For those of us who stuck it out, we were rewarded in a minor way by a little glimmer of optimism.

In this two-person talkathon directed by Isabel Coixet, a man (Javier Cámara) and a woman (Candela Peña) are meeting in a deserted building. There is no one attending a reception desk and the man calls for assistance to no avail. When a woman joins him, they eventually agree that "everyone has moved out."

They seem to be waiting for a real estate agent so they can sign some papers, but no one ever appears. Instead we are subjected to 108 minutes of unrelenting grief. In the past, they were married but their son died of meningitis while the husband was away on a business trip. One divorce and many years later, she has never forgiven him. Instead, she is stuck in her grief, while he has (eventually and reluctantly) moved on.

Both of these actors are extremely capable but we are exasperated by their inability to communicate or comfort one another. On the other hand, I was endlessly fascinated by the two concrete-walled sets on which the action (or lack thereof) took place.
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This You-Tube trailer is provided by SIFF (no English captions):
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After Earth

Will Smith averages one blockbuster per year. This time he's teamed with his son who is a chip off the old block(buster). Brace yourself!

Scriptwriter Guillermo del Toro takes us to our planet 1,000 years after humans had to evacuate. Directed by M Night Shyamalan, this PG-13 thriller tells us that "Danger is Real, Fear is a Choice." I'm not sure how I feel about THAT, but it proves to be a key factor in the survival of our two intrepid travelers. The critters who are the most deadly, can smell fear; if you can control your fear you become invisible to them.

We admire:
  • Will Smith ("Hancock"), who commands a space ship that crash lands on our deserted planet. Desperately hurt, he must depend on his son to reach the tail section of the space ship, which had broken off during the crash. The beacon to summon help is in that debris.
  • Jaden Smith ("Karate Kid" 2010 ) is a young cadet (he wants to be a Ranger like his dad) who is tasked with a tough overland trek through dangerous terrain, nasty beasts, and hostile weather. Oh, and a dwindling reserve of supplies. He is frantic with fear.
  • Sophie Okonedo (Lots of BBC TV) is their lovely wife and mother; her sweetness and wisdom play perfectly here.
  • Zoë Kravitz ("X-Men: First Class") and yes, she's Lenny's daughter. Here she is daughter and sister to our heroes. She absolutely looks like a member of that family!
This is basically a two-man show that is targeted for an audience that likes action, scary beasts and edge-of-the-seat thrills; the females are here to provide motivation. I'm not a part of that demographic, but it seems to me that it scores a resounding bullseye! (The screening audience applauded.)
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See for yourself:
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Full Circle

"Fei yue lao ren yuan" (English captions) is a full-blooded bunch of sentimental claptrap (the audience really DID clap!) that ordinary people just love! It is from China, and the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival screening audience burst into applause when it ended.

Like many Asian films, this is a little too long, a little too sentimental and a little over-acted with too many tears, but this award-winning piece, directed by Zhang Yang, is so loaded with clichés, we couldn't help but respond. (I have a theory: clichés become clichés because they work!) Beautifully photographed by Yang Tao in northeastern China, with wonderful scenic shots of sun-flower fields, rolling grasslands, grazing cattle and galloping horses, we were spellbound. The charming music on the soundtrack made things even better.

We start in a home for the elderly and are treated to all the indignities old people suffer the world over. As we become better acquainted, we learn some specific complaints, e.g., family neglect, Alzheimer's, bad health, incontinence, and worst of all, boredom. These irrepressible geezers rebel against their own version of an unbending Nurse Ratched and sneak out with a newly purchased bus, to go compete in a variety show in a nearby city on the coast.

This little road trip has its own challenges and diversions but everything is determinedly upbeat. We very much enjoyed the bittersweet ending.
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Here's a SIFF Preview (no captions, sorry):
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This engaging documentary follows six fellows who are prepping for the prestigious Master Sommelier exam. Less than 200 candidates have passed this test since it began in 1969; it has one of the lowest pass rates of any exam in the world.

Our 2013 Seattle International Film Festival screening audience was interested, entertained and invested in the outcome. We each had our personal favorites and were appropriately anxious as the test day neared.

Award-winning Director Jason Wise has accumulated wonderful interviews with articulate, funny, intelligent (and ambitious!) candidates. Many of them have photographic memories and when you learn all the minutiae that they must master, it would seem that ONLY candidates with photo- graphic memories could compete! The scope of their education (and those flash-cards) is mind-boggling.

It's fun to get acquainted with the candidates, their wives and girlfriends, other Master Sommeliers, and interested professionals. One father said his son gravitated to this profession because he is very competitive AND wine is an intoxicant. Several wives had some pretty emphatic things to say about that disgusting spit bucket that has become a part of their lives. Sommeliers don't DRINK all that wine, they sniff it, sample it, taste it, analyze it, then spit it out and continue on.

The sequence of wine glasses being destroyed between segments becomes a character itself! The audience would laugh out loud as each glass is broken a bit more.
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This sip was provided by SIFF:
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Mutual Friends

Talk about romantic entanglements! After expert use of split- and multi-screen images during the title sequence, Director Matthew Watts skillfully manipulates us through a maze of young adults; to his credit, we are never confused. This film, submitted by the USA to the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival, kept us interested from the very beginning. We become acquainted with a variety of men and women, their assorted lives, and some of their issues. A big surprise birthday party is planned for that evening.

We see:
  • Caitlin FitzGerald ("It's Complicated") is Liv, after six years with the wrong guy, she's finally on track. She's invited a bunch of mutual friends over for a birthday party.
  • Cheyenne Jackson ("Price Check") is her fiance Christoph, the attorney who is celebrating his birthday. Wait until you get a look at that cake!
  • Jennifer Lafleur ("The Do-Deca-Pentathlon") invites herself to that party, she has issues....
  • Ross Partridge ("How to Make It in America") his wealthy Sammy has more grown-up issues than most of these folks but his chauffeur is full of good advice.
  • Michael Stahl-David (Lots of TV) has just learned he's to be a father, so he's in a bit of a muddle.
  • Christina Cole ("Casino Royale") is expecting, but what happens at the party is unexpected.
  • Peter Scanavino ("Happythankyoumoreplease") is the founder of the "No Strings" revolution. Now maybe those strings don't look so bad after all....
I could go on and on, because there are many more distinctive personalities, each of whom adds to the character-driven humor. It looks like this was written by a committee, but the end result turned out just fine. We liked it.
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No trailer yet:
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Teddy Bears

The ridiculous premise of this goofy little film is one fellow's theory that his mental turmoil will be calmed if he can have sex with his two buddies' girlfriends. As directed by Thomas Beatty and Rebecca Fishman, our 2013 Seattle International Film Festival screening audience traveled through some interesting terrain (we think this was filmed at the Joshua Tree National Park) and ended up at an isolated house in a remote part of southeastern California.

Once there, we listened to psychobabble and watched paint dry. We saw:
  • David Krumholtz (Lots of TV) is a schlubby guy with a hangdog attitude. I'm not quite sure why anyone is friends with this fellow. He is certainly as selfish as I ever want to see and I'm not sure a bout of therapeutic sex ("Feel better now?") will improve things much.
  • Melanie Lynskey ("Hello I Must Be Going") is his put-upon girlfriend. He has worn her down, so now she resorts to passive aggression.
  • Jason Ritter (Lots of TV) seems to be the nicest of their four friends. Our hero's girlfriend shares my opinion...smile...
  • Ned Beatty ("Rango" the Mayor's voice) is an old codger who comes by looking for his dog (our hero has befriended and hidden it).
By the way, the film's title is based on a particular variety of cholla cactus found in that area. It looks almost furry.
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Here is a preview provided by SIFF:
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Current animation astounds me! I sit in the dark, staring at what I know are drawings, but feel their emotions, watch their human quirks and relate to their problems. Twentieth Century Fox and Blue Skys has collaborated on this sweet "Epic" that features a girl as the main protagonist. I didn't see any boys walk out, either! Everyone liked the three-legged, one-eyed Pug, which was so cute when our heroine was full sized, but terrifying when she is the size of the Leaf People ...as was that cute little mouse.

Of course current movie stars like to have "Voice Artist" added to their résumé, so these folks did the honors:
  • Amanda Seyfried ("Les Miserables") is Mary Katherine, a teenager who goes to the forest to live with her father. She soon realizes that his fixation with the Leaf People leaves no room for her, so she gets ready to leave but lets the dog out by mistake and our story begins...
  • Jason Sudeikis ("Horrible Bosses") is her father, Professor Bomba, who has been on a futile, decades-long quest to prove the existence of the Leaf People. He has remote cameras mounted throughout the forest. He wears wire-rimmed glasses and has a Conan-type high-swept forelock.
  • Beyoncé Knowles ("Dreamgirls") is Queen Tara, she keeps the magical bulb, defends her people and secretly loves her guardsman, Ronin.
  • Colin Farrell ("In Bruges") is Ronin, the stalwart commander of the Leaf People, who is trying to protect the forest from Mandrake and keep his promise to his queen.
  • Christoph Waltz ("Inglorious Basterds") is Mandrake. Everything dies in his presence. If he succeeds in taking over the forest, the Leaf People will perish.
  • Josh Hutcherson ("The Hunger Games") is Nod, a rookie Leaf Soldier who quits his post as soon as we meet him. He is impetuous and a little over-confident.
Ronin was particularly well-drawn and voiced; Farrell gave us enough accent to remind us that he isn't local, but it was a gentle touch. His feelings for the queen are unmistakable, but not over-stated. The deer, the mouse and the pond, all were breathtakingly life-like. Expect a LOT of aerial warfare (the soldiers ride birds) but NO blowie uppie stuff; one teeny chaste kiss but no declaration of love. The ending is appropriate and not exactly predictable.

I hope the preview I selected gives you an accurate picture of what you will see. I really liked this one...
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Here is a link to a preview:
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Her Aim is True

This fascinating documentary from the USA is about Jini Dellaccio, a fashion photographer who became a legendary photographer of music groups. Now 96, she lives near Seattle and has been gratified by the interest paid her by luminaries of two worlds, the world of photography and the world of music.

Submitted to the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival by the US and directed by Karen Whitehead, we see a wonderful parade of colleagues, both in music and photography, who discuss the elements that contributed to her genius:
  • She herself was a jazz musician, playing saxophone in a band during the Depression.
  • She became a self-taught fashion photographer in the 50s.
  • She took photos of rock groups like The Sonics and The Wailers, often having them climb trees or sculptures, which created iconic album covers.
Lovely enough to have been in her own fashion shoots, she is still stunningly appealing. It is clear that the rockers who have been in her photo sessions adore her. Her director, Karen Whitehead takes us to local Seattle spots like Jazz Alley where she worked.

This documentary includes her love affair with her camera, her fashion photography, her rock album covers and even a few self portraits.

Here is an ingenious, creative innovator we would all like to know.
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Here is a sample from U-Tube:
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Love is All You Need

Chick Flick Alert! "Den skaldede frisør" (English captions) is a Danish film about a hairdresser who has been fighting breast cancer. After a partial mastectomy and chemo, she gets the all-clear, but comes home only to discover her husband having a fling with a co-worker. Problem is, next week they are flying from Denmark to Italy for their daughter's wedding. Of course Dean Martin's "That's Amore" underscores the opening credits.

Writer Suzanne Bier ("After the Wedding" - terrific, by the way!) directed this award-winning romance that features:
  • Trine Dyrholm ("The Royal Affair") is Ida, the bald hairdresser (nice wig though) who has to confront one serious upset after another. She's the mother of the bride.
  • Pierce Brosnan ("The Ghost Writer") is Philip, a highly successful international trader of fresh fruits and vegetables. It's his Italian villa where the wedding party convenes. He's the widowed father of the groom.
  • Sebastian Jessen ("Almost Perfect") is Patrick, the groom...but he's starting to wonder....
  • Molly Blixt Egelind ("Rebounce") is Astrid, the bride. The groom's wondering makes her wonder if she should start to wonder...
  • Paprika Steen ("Keep the Lights On") is Benedikte, the worst sister-in-law EVER!
Things get off to a bad start when the mother of the bride backs her car into the father of the groom's car at the airport in Copenhagen. Then they are on the same flight but HER luggage gets lost. Finally, her wandering husband brings along his new sweetheart because she missed her flight back to Denmark. She introduces herself as his "fiancée."

I'll bet you have it all figured out, don't you? Well, you don't. I love it when things become unpredictable, and they DO! Expect no sweaty bodies, gunshots, vehicular mayhem or blowie uppie stuff. In fact the biggest villain is that philandering husband.

BTW, Brosnan just gets more appealing as the years go by. He's far better now than when he was 'Bond'ing with the world. Yum!
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Please watch this preview:
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Out in the Dark

It wasn't the gay aspects of this award-winning film so much as the political ones, that had the most impact on me. This entry to the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival from Israel/USA (English captions) examines the difficulties (talk about understatement!) of living amid the hopelessly entrenched conflicts between Israel and Palestine.

Director Michael Mayer introduces us to Nimr, a young (closeted) Palestinian who has been accepted as a student in a Tel Aviv school. He can see that this opportunity might set him on the path to a possible education in England and, most important of all, OUT of the Middle East, where a gay Muslim is in constant jeopardy.

While in Tel Aviv preparing for school, he visits a gay bar, meets, and falls for, Roy, a young attorney in a well-connected Israeli family. What Nimr doesn't want to admit, even to himself, is that his brother is an arms smuggler for Palestine.

We watch intelligence officers as they scour their city for potential threats and see how their search settles on our star-crossed lovers.

This one is a nail-biter because we have attractive and appealing people to root for.
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This U-Tube trailer is provided by SIFF:
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In this hard-hitting South Korean entry to the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival, we begin with a gang rape by four drunken young men. Ten years later we are with the only fellow who had been been bullied into it: Sung-Gong has made a life for himself; he works in a clothing factory, lives alone, and ponders the past.

After joining a Christian church she attends, he becomes acquainted with Jang-mi, that long-ago victim; he becomes fixated on her and her lingering problems. She had been unconscious at the time, so has no idea who he is.

First-time director Don-ku Lee gives us an uncompromising look at the long-term effects the crime has on its victim, and how an obsessive guilt has persisted with one of the perpetrators.

Expect violence (no gunshots) as he gamely tries to take matters into his own hands.
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This preview is provided by SIFF:
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A Band Called Death

This documentary submitted by the USA for the 2013 Seattle Inter- national Film Festival lets us see a Detroit rock and roll band from the 1970s when Detroit was synonymous with Motown.

Directors Jeff Howlett and Mark Covino start with reminiscences of an idyllic childhood in Detroit: the Hackney family consisted of a father, a mother and six children. The father was an electrician and an important figure in their local church. The children swore fealty to each other, vowed never to fight and to always support one another. When the boys indicated an interest in music, Mom marched them down to the local music store, bought instruments and tolerated (to a degree) their music. ("Turn that music DOWN!")

Their father is killed by a drunken driver, so when they form a band, the oldest brother, David, insisted they call their band "Death." Watch how this decision impacts their success and failure for the next 30 years; Clive Davis of Arista Records would have signed them if they changed their name. You'll enjoy what happens when a demo 45 is discovered by a collector decades after the master tapes were left forgotten in an attic.

Expect no drugs, no sex, and a lot of rock and roll. Even though this type of music is NOT my preference, I found this to be interesting, informative AND entertaining. These are good folks!
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Here is a preview:
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The catalog for the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival calls "Soi Yat Hei" (English captions) a "delicate, life-affirming drama." I call this one a great big snooze; my apologies to Taiwan, who submitted this entry for our approval. Directed by Hsu Chao-Jen, this is supposedly an Amelie- esque romantic drama, but it dragged on and on, with very little forward motion to be seen. Maybe it was too delicate, but I had to smile at what I call the "Second-Act Sneak" as audience members quietly tiptoed out of the theatre long before the film ended.

This is NOT to be mistaken for the "perp walk" threatened by our SIFF host if any of us is caught with an electronic device glowing in the auditorium. This was more self-initiated: either fall asleep in your seat, or get outside to some fresh air and find another livelier film. Goodness knows this Festival has plenty of those: each time we leave the theater, lines have already formed for the next feature. I stayed to the bitter end hoping something would develop.

We are with a group of MoPed-fixated young adults who are struggling with their love lives. One of them has even MORE trouble, because not only is his sister struggling with her love life, his PARENTS are also struggling with theirs. Most of the scenes are inane and direction-less, even though there some delightfully humorous bits and I liked the idea of pop-up wedding invitations, but I became impatient with the inability of each character to get a grip and DO SOMETHING!

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The U-Tube preview provided by SIFF 
is not for THIS film...
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Terms and Conditions May Apply

This award-winning documentary was submitted to the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival by the USA/United Kingdom/Austria. It is an eye-opening piece directed by Cullen Hoback, which makes it clear how deeply my privacy and yours have been breached. You will see Mark Zuckerberg, Moby, Joe Lipari, Orson Scott Card and Raymond Kurzweil, among others, discuss, disparage and defend this issue that profoundly impacts our future.

We have all practically swooned at the pages of teeny-tiny print that we have to swear we have read (AND agreed to), before we are allowed to the next screen on our computers. Studies have shown that each of us would spend over 180 hours per year if we actually read all of those disclosures! Our loss of civil liberties, privacy and intellectual property is taken for granted these days as the ubiquity of Google, Facebook, Twitter and other "free" social network services surround us. One interviewee claims that this loss has been gradual, sort of like the frog placed in a pot of cool water on the stove. You know the rest...

After 9/11, the fine print became more specific and opened the flood- gates of digital monitoring. One poor fellow (from Ireland) made a bad joke about how he expected to behave when he landed in New York City. The upshot was that he was diverted at the gate and held in a downtown cell for five hours. A little boy made a comment on Twitter and was hauled off to detention; while a man used a "trigger" word and Homeland Security had the NYPD at his door within ten minutes. The most futuristic aspects of these new interpretations have to do with future crimes we might commit. In 2002, Steven Spielberg made a movie about THIS based on a Philip K. Dick short story called "Minority Report."

Legislation has been written and introduced over and over, but no legal protection for the general public has become law. More onerous enforce- ment has increased exponentially under President Obama. Things aren't getting better.

There are many enjoyable episodes in this documentary, like when the home addresses of the CEOs of both Google and Facebook are published. This is a lively and entertaining cautionary tale.
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This U-Tube preview is provided by SIFF:
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This collection of short films was memorable for the last one, but let me cover the first four before I wax eloquent about "Walking the Dogs."
  1. "Premature": An extremely clever comedy filmed by a single camera fixed on the dashboard of a four-passenger car. An older Norwegian couple meets their son and his pregnant (Spanish) bride at an airport and "make nice" on their drive home. We see bigotries, tensions, misunderstandings and potential deal breakers quietly surface during this brief ride.
  2. "Kiruna-Kigali": We see parallel stories that are thousands of miles and many months apart. One is a young Rwandan woman in the throes of a difficult (breech) birth, the other is the female doctor who comes to her aid, herself later isolated in a wintry Swedish countryside as she too, goes into labor.
  3. "HowardCantour.com": A film critic allows us to hear his internal monologue about other film critics. He says a film critic will give any film three-and-a-half stars if it flatters his own self-image. I say this is an exercise in Intellectual Masturbation. 'nuff said....
  4. "Boneshaker": This Louisiana bayou based story shows us a Ugandan immigrant family seeking a tent revival in hopes the evangelist can exorcise the devils that make their little girl so unruly. This one featured Quvenzhané Wallis right after she filmed "Beasts of the Southern Wild."
Now we get to the heart of the matter! This next short film had all of us raving as we exited the auditorium.
  • "Walking the Dogs": This brilliant piece was inspired by the security breach of the century when a young man broke into the Queen of England's bedroom at Buckingham Palace and stayed there for ten minutes; her footman/guard was walking her Corgis. Eddie Marsan plays intruder Michael Fagen; Emma Thompson is brilliant as a cautious, but ever-gracious Queen Elizabeth. Their conversation is at first tentative, then it warms up (as warm as a "royal" allows), until HRM offers him a dog biscuit (there is nothing else to eat her bedroom). When the maid finally DOES bring her morning tea, she is simply told to fetch another cup and saucer. This is a 30-minute episode in a BBC series. No trailer, sorry.
I will go on a quest to find a DVD of this Playhouse Presents series!


Redemption Street

"Ustanicka ulica" (English captions) is an award-winning entry from Serbia which we screened for the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival. Directed by Miroslav Terzic and based on an idea from Gordan Kicic (who also stars as the protagonist), this post-war thriller was certainly tense enough for ME!

Are there any wars where no war crimes were committed? I doubt it. In this one, we see an ambitious young prosecutor assigned a folder of names from a para-military unit that fought in Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Herzegovina; they were charged with several massacres, but the case is now considered closed. It is his job to reopen the case and investigate these allegations of war crimes. Even though years have passed, his law-professor father warns him that it is still dangerous to look too closely at some of those names.

This well-meaning fellow is so naïve! He strolls into darkened alleys where common sense would tell a seasoned movie-going audience that a hardened criminal might be armed and waiting. His amateurish sleuthing is just good enough to stir up a bunch of trouble, from which he is confronted with the truth, and a loaded gun. His idea of surreptitiously following a car is a joke! We see cold-blooded murders and fear the same fate for our hero.

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Here is a preview supplied by SIFF:
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Inequality for All

This award-winning documentary, submitted to the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival by the USA, is a treat from beginning to end. First of all, it is hosted by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, who was born with multiple epiphyseal dysplasia or Fairbanks disease, consequently he is 4'10" tall and makes the very most of it. He has served Presidents Clinton, Carter, Ford, and (he claims) Lincoln. He currently teaches at UC Berkley. He is an economist and philosopher who tools around town in his little silver Mini Cooper S, and attacks life with a joie de vivre that is something to behold.

Ever since he made Clinton's "short list" (...smile...) for a cabinet post, he has been an attack dog about the economy and the widening economic gap that becomes more and more obvious as time goes by. He has terrific graphs and charts that illustrate the necessity for a country to have a healthy and optimistic middle class; he has great graphs and charts that show the sad truth: the American middle class is a threatened species. Consumer spending by this beleaguered middle class constitutes 70% of the American economy.

Director Jacob Kornbluth has done a masterful job of assembling interviews, talking points, graphs, charts and news clips. They flow seamlessly from one era to another, all the while supporting Mr. Reich's contention about where we are headed. There is no need to wait for the DVD: Mr Reich articulates extremely well, we hear every consonant as he makes his points, usually with humor. I loved Dolly Parton singing "Nine to Five" during the segment about American wives going to work. This film is loaded with interesting information and you will never be bored.

There is no trailer for this one at the present time.

Geography Club

Our teenage years are when we have the greatest need for conformity. No teenager wants to be "different." Teens dress alike, talk alike, and join groups where they fit in. Based on Brent Hartinger's novel (he's from Seattle), this USA entry for the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival seems to be a "Coming-out" gay film that appeals to straights. Most of us liked it because the actors are so attractive and decent. The story is fairly lightweight (this could be an after-school special), but I'm happy to report that it isn't predictable and it IS loaded with people to root for.

Directed by Gary Entin, this PG-13 film stars the following:
  • Cameron Deane Steward ("Pitch Perfect") is Russell, the central character. His father wants him to go to Yale but he really isn't sure what HE wants.
  • Andrew Caldwell (Lots of TV) is Gunnar, best buds with our hero since kindergarten. He only has one thing on his mind, and it isn't his big head that's talking!
  • Justin Deeley (Lots of TV) plays Kevin, a jock who rocks Russell's boat. His family wouldn't care if he came out of the closet, but he can't face his football team.
  • Scott Bakula ("Behind the Candelabra") plays Kevin's father. His own father may have just found the perfect boyfriend and the family couldn't be happier.
  • Ally Maki (Lots of TV) is Min, the dynamic student who creates the "Geography Club" as a place where gay and lesbian teens can socialize and fit in.
We cringe as we see peer pressure brought to bear during one of the many bullying sessions. The upshot is that more than one student is shamed, but the victim reassures our hero that "Things get better." Throughout the film, we are reminded what a bunch of good kids we are watching. Our hero doesn't want to hurt anyone, even though things don't always go the way he would like. We see no nudity, no gunshots, no blowie uppie stuff and only a couple of chaste kisses. I liked it.
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SIFF provided an incorrect preview, sorry.
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The Punk Singer

One of the hidden benefits to attending all (or most...smile...) of the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival press screenings, is that I see films I would otherwise avoid. This documentary from the US is one of them.

Director Sini Anderson has accumulated press clips, performance footage, interviews and music industry know-how to create a story that took a 90° turn about two-thirds of the way in. We start with footage that introduces us to Kathleen Hanna, a frustrated girl who just wanted to be heard.

A clever advisor told her the best way was through music, not stories. The upshot was, she and some chums formed Bikini Kill, a punk rock group that enjoyed unexpected success, partly because she insisted the females in the audience be granted priority and treated with respect. As a part of the burgeoning music scene in the Pacific Northwest, she became friends with Joan Jett of The Runaways, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana and Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney.

We watch this girl (who helped originate the Riot Grrrl movement of the 90s) grow into an intelligent woman of great beauty. As her stature changes, she becomes disenchanted with the way the press keeps trying to create dissension among female performers and finds herself extremely weary of touring.

Now the 90° turn. She is eventually diagnosed with Lyme Disease and we watch her struggles, bolstered by her wonderful husband Adam Horovitz of the Beasty Boys.

I have never been a fan of punk rock, but this story is wonderful.  Kudos to the cinematographers, Jennie Jeddry and Moira Morel. There are a couple of setups that were notable for their beauty and acute eye for color. The rating would probably be a PG-13 because our gal is articulate, well-behaved and doesn't have the potty mouth I would have expected.

I'm sorry I don't have a preview to share. 

My Dog Killer

Bleak. That is the word that occurred to me over and over as I watched this dreary tragedy.

This 2013 Seattle International Film Festival entry from Slovakia/Czech Republic, explores the realities of a boy in his late teens trying to cope with his gang of skinheads (who only like him for his dog); a real estate deal between his VERY estranged parents (who only want to cheat each other); and a younger half-brother who had the temerity to be born half-Roma (Gypsy).

As depicted by director Mira Fornay, "Môj pes Killer" (English captions) gives us a young man who lives in a vineyard with his father on the Slovak-Moravian border. Our "hero" has only one real friend, his dog Killer. This beast loves him, but is savage and brutal if the occasion arises. He is kept tied up in the yard.

The beautiful opening scene was telling. We looked at it for so long I began to think it was a screen saver. We are treated to endless clips of our hero riding his motor scooter or walking down a row of grape vines in a field. If someone starts to walk down a hallway, we KNOW the camera will continue to run until he has reached the very end and walked out. This is a 45-minute film that runs for 90 minutes.

Our tattooed lead is taciturn, angry, and isn't really comfortable any- where. The people around him are arbitrary, rude and selfish. This makes for difficult viewing. Sigh...
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See what you think:
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Nick Cassavetes is an audacious chip off the old block. I'm sure his father would be proud to see the unusual films this guy turns out ("My Sister's Keeper" notwithstanding). For this US entry to the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival, he has created a production designer's dream: cartoon characters helping with domestic chores (like Snow White), a flood in a grade-school classroom, and a dinner party that becomes a bizarre gathering of humanoid animals. And those are just a few samples.

This film gives us the unique opportunity to examine mental illness from the inside looking OUT. When we experience what our heroine does, we can (sort of) see why she behaves the way she does. Her journey to confront her demons in her hometown doesn't seem to make things any better.

We see:
  • Heather Wahlquist ("Alpha Dog") as Mary, a lovely substitute teacher in Los Angeles, whose drug habits are soon obvious. She makes poor choices and has to suffer the consequences. But she very much enjoys the company of her four children.
  • Gena Rowlands ("The Notebook") is Mary's grandmother Mimi, in furious denial about how her son treated his daughters. Yes, Ms. Rowlands is our director's mother...
  • David Morse ("The Hurt Locker") is Mary's psychologist...or is he her father? Hmmm....
  • Sienna Miller ("Alfie" 2004) is Xamme, who may or may not be suffering from Tourette's.
  • Lucy Punch ("Bad Teacher") plays Mary's sister Amanda, who shared a traumatic childhood with her.
  • Melanie Griffith (Lots of TV) is Patsy, the wife who was stubbornly blind to her husband's behavior with their daughters. But she loves her daughter a lot and is certain that Jesus can fix it all.
  • Ray Liotta ("The Details") has almost a cameo right near the end.
Brace yourself for a LOT of drug use, both prescription and illicit; expect a LOT of profanity and some sexual bits. No doubt this will eventually be rated an R because of language, drug use, and the behavior of the characters. Our screening audience laughed off and on all the way through and we were NEVER bored!
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U-Tube is the best I can do:
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Italian for Beginners

Here is a charming R-rated Danish film from the year 2000; "Italiensk for begyndere" (English captions). This film was honored by film festivals all over Europe and the United States. It has adult themes, e.g., impotence, fetal alcohol syndrome, and aging or abusive parents, yet I just finished watching my DVD again with a huge smile on my face.

We are in a Danish town, where we meet our small cast of characters. They include:
  • A recently widowed pastor, whose wife had suffered from schizophrenia. He becomes the acting pastor at a local church because the elderly minister has been alienating his parishioners.
  • A hotel clerk who provides the minister with temporary quarters. Our shy clerk has a massive crush on a lovely young Italian woman who works in the hotel kitchen.
  • A blunt young man whose bad-tempered attacks on dining room patrons jeopardizes his job in the hotel restaurant.
  • A loyal young woman who quits the hotel kitchen when her cranky friend is fired.
  • A clumsy young woman who works in a bakery; her hateful father is housebound, demanding and verbally abusive.
  • A young hairdresser who cares for her terminally ill mother while running her own modest salon.
A small class in conversational Italian forms at an adult education center; for one reason or another, all of our cast shows up. We get to watch their progress and see their reward.

Expect humor, pathos, generosity of spirit, romance, courage and humanity. Can we ask for anything more?
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Here is a preview:
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Much Ado About Nothing

The 2013 Seattle International Film Festival opening night audience obviously knew their Shakespeare and they REALLY knew their Whedon! Joss Whedon ("The Avengers" and Lots of TV) adapted the screenplay and directed this little black and white PG-13 gem, shot in his personal home over a two-week period. During the Q&A which followed the screening of this little treasure, he said the most difficult part was working outside in his yard, because the neighbors were sanding their floors, many dogs in the neighborhood were barking, and he doesn't live very far from the Santa Monica Airport.

It's really nice working with former colleagues where everybody knows everybody. As you can clearly see by their credits, this cast has worked with him before and it seems they have remained friends.

He worked with:
  • Amy Acker ("The Cabin in the Woods") as Beatrice, the willful woman who hasn't forgiven "that man" for the slight she suffered a couple of years back.
  • Alexis Denisof ("The Avengers") is Benedick, who is every bit the misogynist Beatrice holds in such contempt, furthermore he can't bring himself to utter the "M" word ("Marriage").
  • Fran Kranz ("The Cabin in the Woods") is Claudio, the young man Benedick tries in vain to steer away from matrimony.
  • Jillian Morgese ("The Avengers") is Hero, who makes the fourth for our two sets of star-crossed lovers.
  • Clark Gregg ("The Avengers") is Leonato, Hero's father. He is the host for this weekend in the country that starts the ball rolling.
  • Nathan Fillion ("Castle" and "Firefly") is Dogberry, Mister Malaprop, ego at full sail, with his adoring assistant echoing his every move.
  • Sean Maher ("Firefly" and "Serenity") is Don John, the villain of the piece.
My favorite Shakespearean comedy directed by my favorite American director, which features one of my favorite Canadian/American actors. It doesn't get any better than this!
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Here is a snippet to enjoy:
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The African Cypher

According to my dictionary, a cypher has to do with a secret message, like a code. Now I'm further mystified by the name for this documentary about young men who devote countless hours and boundless energy as choreographers and dancers for their original street performances (and eventual contests). Their dances seem to be part break-dancing, part folk dancing, part Morris dance, and altogether original.

Director Bryan Little and Producer Filipa Domingues take us to South Africa (English captions where needed) to examine the talent and philosophy embraced by these unique individuals. We become acquainted with several young men, all ambitious and hard working. We can see that this movement is generally peaceful, it promotes multi-cultural competition and the dances only contain simulated fights. In addition to lengthy statements of the various beliefs, we see the upbeat attitudes of these men, which sound worthwhile.

I only have a couple of questions: Where are the women? I only spotted one woman during this whole documentary, although she appears more than once. Also, why didn't we see the winning entry in the contest? It occurred to me that the documentarians thought they were following the likely winners, which would make a great wrap to their story, but the winners must not have been among any of the groups we met.

This trailer contains a nice sampling of those dance styles. It's worth your time.
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Another preview from U-Tube:
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After Tiller

We entered the theater with our defense shields waaaay up because the issue of late-term abortion is a lose-lose proposition. Absolutely NO one wants these: abortionists are called murderers and then murdered; legislators reduce this complex issue to 15-second sound bites and then pass laws; and women the world over, watch with dread and then try to live with the results.

Abortionist Dr. George Tiller was assassinated in Kansas in 2009 in his church, but his colleagues carry on his work. Directors Martha Shane and Lana Wilson tried to document both sides of the story, striving for a bit of balance in what is an unbalanced world.

Pro-Life activists threaten a landlord if he leases space to an abortion clinic. (They picket his son's middle school.) His own father was a doctor who was firebombed because he too, had performed abortions. His son explains that early in his practice, his father had to try to save the lives of damaged women who had suffered self-induced or illegal abortions. He came to feel that a medical abortion was safer and many of his patients went on to have their own families when their circumstances changed. The landlord leases the space.

We see an interview with a couple whose obstetrician referred them to an abortionist because as their baby developed, an in-utero MRI showed that the baby's bones were already breaking from a genetic flaw. The baby, if born, will not be able to be held (it would break its bones), and it would only live for three or four painful months.

We see clinicians refuse abortions to women who don't have medical evidence to justify them. We see many counseling sessions, with liberal amounts of Kleenex dispensed to troubled parents.

We see NO grisly film, but we see a horse barn that belongs to one of the doctors, burned to the ground by an arsonist and some horses suffer horrific deaths. One couple picks their office location based on advice from a police specialist who determines if a window is within a sniper's range.

As I said, this is a lose-lose proposition....
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This link is to the SIFF preview:
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The Iceman

This is one of those gnarly stories based on real life; Richard Kuklinski's story has to be true, no one could make it up. In this R-rated thriller written and directed by Ariel Vromen, we see what shapes a contract killer, what is important to him and whether or not he holds any values. It's awkward for an audience when we find ourselves in a position to be rooting for a cold-blooded killer, and yet we really do NOT want to see his sweet family jeopardized, so we want him to survive.
  • Michael Shannon ("Premium Rush" and "Boardwalk Empire") is Richard Kuklinski, our contract killer; he is a limited man with limited options: no education, no charm and no skills (other than lethal ones), so he does the best he can with what he has. Shannon is one of the finest actors working today and this difficult role is worthy of him.
  • Winona Ryder ("The Dilemma") is Deborah Pellicotti, the shy Catholic girl who wouldn't even do any heavy petting until she was married. Her devoted husband respected and adored her.
  • Chris Evans ("What's Your Number?") is Mr. Freezy, whose ubiquitous ice cream truck moves invisibly through the city. This scraggly haired thug bears NO resemblance to "Captain America" let me tell you!
  • Ray Liotta ("The Details") is Roy Demeo, a pornographer/crime lord who tested and then exploited the ice water which ran through Kuklinski's veins.
Because this takes place over a time span of nearly 20 years, you will get a kick out of the different cars, clothes, hair styles and mustaches that enjoyed passing popularity. Also, it's refreshing to see pagers and pay phones instead of the ever-present cell phones in today's world. If you are anything like me, you will appreciate "the rest of the story" which appears during the final credits. You can't like a film like this, but you can be impressed by it.
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Here is a preview:
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Star Trek Into Darkness

..of course it must be darker, that's what sells! The first chapter of this PG-13 reboot was a smashing success because they were wise enough to know what we love and cherish about it. Once again, they allow each character to do his or her familiar "thing." We even get to see a Tribble!

We have J.J. Abrams ("Star Trek" 2009) back at the helm, along with the same "Star Trek" (2009) writers, so we instantly know we are in capable hands. I'm not going to go into the plot because that isn't why we go to these things. Suffice it to say, there is a very bad guy and you can expect a lot of fisticuffs and blowie uppie stuff!

Here are the usual suspects:
  • Chris Pine ("Bottle Shock") is Kirk, full of blue-eyed charm, still breaking rules and going by gut rather than regulations. He even breaks the "Prime Directive," for which Spock rats him out!
  • Zachary Quinto ("Margin Call") comes back as Spock; we can expect unyielding adherence to the rules...AND he never lies! (This becomes very important.)
  • Karl Urban ("RED") his crusty Bones delights us, so when he unleashes his hot-tempered tongue, we in the audience just sit there with big grins... "Dammit Jim!"
  • Simon Pegg ("Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol") is the perfect Scotty, so when he quits his post, Captain Kirk isn't the only one in shock!
  • John Cho ("Identity Thief") treats Sulu with the respect that role deserves, AND the Captain's chair looks good on him!
  • Anton Yelchin ("Star Trek") is wonderfully indecipherable as Chekov, his frantic attempts to restore power in Scotty's absence is one for the books!
  • Zoe Saldana ("Columbiana") makes a delicious Uhura, as we watch her juggle her duty to the ship and her affection for Spock. She also speaks Klingon, don't forget!
  • Benedict Cumberbatch ("War Horse") is a new face to the series, his Khan is awesome. And in the fight scenes, he usually wears that long overcoat so we can tell the fighters apart.
Of course it's great to see the gang; I've only identified the main ones. There are many other major characters I haven't covered so you'll just have to go see it; I know you'll enjoy it. You'll see lots of humor, lots of action and lots of well-loved faces.

By the way, I highly recommend all of the above films that I cite in BOLD. It's fun to be able to do that occasionally!
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Here is one of the many trailers:
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The Wall

"Die Wand" is a 2013 Seattle International Film Festival entry from Germany (in English). It is directed by much-admired Julian Pölsler (many awards and nominations throughout Europe) whose work is primarily seen on German television. Adapted from the classic novel by Marlen Haushofer, this is a masterful performance done almost in solitude by a wonderful actress.

A woman is going to visit some friends who drop her off at their cabin, then go back into town to buy some more supplies. Their dog Lynx stays with her, even though there is no love lost between her and the dog.

We are enthralled by:
  • Martina Gedeck ("Mostly Martha" and "The Lives of Others") is the poor gal who, after taking the dog for a walk in the woods, finds herself trapped by an invisible wall and neither she nor the dog can get out. Her friends are nowhere to be seen and she is now absolutely alone except for Lynx.
This tour de force shows us what Ms. Gedeck can do with NO makeup, NO love story, NO telephones, NO car crashes and NO Computer Generated Imaging. (There ARE three gunshots.) Her solitude is almost palpable, she never speaks, the only narrative comes as a voiceover when she is writing in her journal on scraps of paper she has found in her friends' cabin. She first writes with a pen, then with pencil, and finally is down to a stub. I couldn't help but worry about her supply of bullets, kerosene and matches. Eventually, her main concern becomes how to keep her humanity.

Filmed in the area around Salzkammergut, Austria, the scenery is breathtaking, the weather is chilly, and her spectacular surroundings emphasize her isolation. A cat shows up, along with a cow, so this four- some becomes almost inseparable. Her survival instincts demand that she learn how to plant potatoes, gut a deer, milk a cow, help deliver a calf, cut hay for the winter, and shoot a gun. You should see the look on the dog's face the first time she shoots the gun and misses the deer!

BTW, both of those movies in bold are HIGHLY recommended.
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Please watch this preview (in English):
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This entry from France (English captions) to the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival is by turn, horrifying, informative, funny and sad. Written and directed by Alice Winocour, I wasn't sure if this had any real basis in fact. Reminded of "Hysteria" released in June of 2012, which named real people treating the same "ailment" in 19th century England, I wondered if this too, was equally grounded. Happily, I found plenty of evidence that it is based on real people. Unfortunately, the barbaric equipment they used in their "treatments" is also based on fact. That is the horrifying part!

We watch:
  • Vincent Lindon ("La moustache") is wonderful as Professeur Jean-Martin Charcot, whose well-documented treatments for hysteria were conducted at Salpêtrière School. The young women who were his patients had almost epileptic spasms, cut themselves and were otherwise self abusive. The professor was a dedicated ethical man, but he WAS a man....
  • Soko ("Friends from France") is our eponymous heroine, a serving maid in a prominent home who falls down in a terrifying fit, and awakens to find her right eye is paralyzed and closed. She is sent to Salpêtrière where her treatments begin. The patients there are expected to earn their keep, so she is working with the poultry when a cook beheads a hen. She has another fit, only to discover that now her eye works but the ailment has traveled to another part of her body. And so it goes...
  • Chiara Mastroianni ("Persepolis" voice) is the professor's wife, Constance. She seems to suspect that some of her husband's young female patients might find a cure for their hysteria in his well-tailored trousers. (I began to suspect the same thing!)
Of course with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, we can easily discount all the experiments and theories they worked on at the time, but we actually DO care about that man's career.

As I said, this was interesting and informative. Just know that a chicken is beheaded in living color; expect some nudity; there is no profanity or gunshots... I'm sure it will eventually be R-rated because of content.
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Here is a trailer:
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Ain't Them Bodies Saints

We start with a young couple in the throes of a spat. She's leaving him and he's begging her to stay. By the time she relents, she also admits that she is pregnant. THEN we see him trying to steal money so their future will be easier. Within the first ten minutes he and a friend have committed a crime and become fugitives. The accomplice is killed, he is captured and goes to jail. Now the story begins.

Our 2013 Seattle International Film Festival audience wasn't familiar with work by director David Lowery, so we went into this with open minds.

We see:
  • Casey Affleck ("Gone Baby Gone") as our anti-hero. He does bad things but we can't help but root for him. He writes his lover every day and plots to escape prison.
  • Rooney Mara ("The Social Network") is his sweetheart, raising their little girl by herself in a sleepy, lazy Texas town.
  • Keith Carradine ("Cowboys and Aliens" but many of us have loved him since "Nashville") is the father of the dead accomplice. He runs a general store in that little town and tends to hold a grudge.
  • Ben Foster ("3:10 to Yuma" 2007) is a local lawman. He has a major crush on that pretty woman with the darling daughter and brings her an undersized guitar for her third birthday.
The gloomy soundtrack feeds our sense of foreboding; much of the action takes place at night, so not only are WE confused, but the characters are a bit muddled as well.

This will probably be R-rated when the MPAA takes a look at it; I have no idea where they came up with the name for this film. Which brings me to another observation: if you have ANY sort of hearing loss, you will probably do well to see this in a theater that provides closed captions or wait for the DVD. So far there is no preview to attach, sorry.



Here's where I make some enemies. In my opinion, this 2013 Seattle International Film Festival entry from France (English captions) contains a "Worst so far..." (WSF) performance.

The story itself is mildly interesting and we can't help but wonder at some parallels with real life. Louis Malle's daughter Justine both wrote and directed this introspective about a daughter just entering her young adulthood when her father is diagnosed with a fatal disease. (Malle died of lymphoma when Justine was 21.) I have no problem with that at all. But I DID recoil from some of the acting.

Let's talk about it:
  • Esther Garrel ("Camille Rewinds") is Juliette, the young woman eager to lose her virginity. This actress has been working for over a decade. Do you suppose it was the direction? I haven't seen such fake weeping since our backyard attempts to "put on a show!" She wins "Worst so far."
  • Didier Bezace ("The Minister") is her father who has children by three different women, none of whom seem the least bit upset by that fact. His decline is shockingly fast.
  • Émile Bertherat ("LOL") as Benjamin is our heroine's first nominee for the honor of deflowering her. He thinks she's moving a bit fast.
There is no rating to offer; I'd say it's a mild PG-13, simply because she is pretty frank about what she wants.
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Here is a link to a preview:
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Papadopoulos & Sons

This presents a quandary, it's sappy and predictable, there are no surprises, the characters are pleasant and the movie, directed by Marcus Markou, is mildly diverting. Our 2013 Seattle International Film Festival audience was a bit testy after sitting through such a non-artistic entry from the UK. On the other hand, Yours Truly had a very nice time. I LIKE sappy and predictable, so I was happy.

We start in a gorgeous white-on-white mansion, with a widower, his housekeeper, and his three children; two are teenagers and one is nine. Their life is one of entitlement and ease. His lawyer's office is in the green glass building fondly called "The Gherkin" in London. (It really DOES look like a pickle!)

Here are the actors and their characters:
  • Stephen Dillane ("Game of Thrones") is Harry Papadopoulos, a phenomenally successful businessman, ready to build a shopping center in London when the bottom falls out of international banking.
  • Georgia Groome ("The Holding") is his daughter Katie, forced to re-write her requirements for friends.
  • Frank Dillane ("Harry Potter") plays his son James, who wants to be a botanist, NOT a businessman, and yes, he really IS Stephen Dillane's son.
  • Thomas Underhill ("Mother's Milk") is his son Theo, who can see patterns and trends, loves to create order from chaos, and would LOVE to go into business with his father.
  • Georges Corraface ("Without Borders") is Spiros, his ebullient brother, who never holds a grudge, is always upbeat and a little overdue to make amends for his past shortcomings, per the ninth step of his AA program. He had been in the fish-and-chip business with his brother back "in the day."
  • Cosima Shaw (Lots of TV) is Sophie, a lovely legal assistant assigned to negotiate a new mortgage which will allow Harry to reclaim his empire.
Can you see where this is going? No bad guys, no sweaty bodies, no gunplay or vehicular mayhem, just decent people trying to sort out their lives with no blowie uppie stuff. And YES, I found it pleasant. In fact, I own the DVD.
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Here is a preview:
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The Great Gatsby

When I saw this classic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald was being adapted and filmed again, I quickly re-read the book, so it would be fresh in my mind. Directed by the audacious Australian Baz Luhrmann ("Moulin Rouge!" and "Strictly Ballroom"), the early scenes are a bit too "Baz" (gaudy and frenetic with anachronistic RAPPING) but after the story settles in, this is a terrific PG-13 movie. Don't worry about seeing it in 3D because the story is the main thing; both DiCaprio and Mulligan fit their roles to a "T."

In fact, all of this cast is great:
  • Leonardo DiCaprio ("J Edgar" and "Shutter Island") is perfect as Jay Gatsby, the mysterious, phenomenally wealthy resident of West Egg, a location on Long Island. He is a free-wheeling host who throws lavish parties that everyone who is anyone must attend. He proves that "Love is Blind."
  • Carrie Mulligan ("Never Let Me Go" and "Drive") is the tragic Daisy Buchanan, the enchanting mirage from Gatsby's past.
  • Joel Edgerton ("Warrior" and "Kinky Boots") is Tom Buchanan, Daisy's possessive husband: promiscuous, wealthy, and vengeful.
  • Tobey Maguire ("The Details" and "Labor Day") is our alter ego, Nick Carraway, who narrates the story and represents our point of view. His cottage is next door to Gatsby's mansion, so they become friends. By the way, Daisy is his cousin.
  • Isla Fisher ("Wedding Crashers" and "Rango") is Myrtle, Tom Buchanan's lover. She lives over a service station on the road to New York City.
  • Jason Clarke ("Zero Dark Thirty" and "Lawless") is George Wilson, the guy we come to pity. It's his wife Myrtle who is the catalyst for the story.
It's nice to see Luhrmann use his fellow Aussies in this one. Edgerton, Fisher and Clarke all hail from Down Under, as do many other supporting cast members. In addition, this splendid film was shot entirely in Oz. Good on ya, mate!
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Here is a link to a trailer:
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Goltzius and the Pelican Company

Pssst... D'ya'wanna see nudes? Right over here! Nudes aside, I just spent 128 minutes of my life with this puerile offering from Peter Greenaway ("The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover") so you don't have to.

This travesty, submitted to the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival by the UK, the Netherlands, France and Croatia, is also known as "Golcijus i pelikansko društvo." This one is guaranteed to be the darling of critics and artistes, but in my opinion, not the rest of us. We like stories, characters and, amazingly enough, already know how sex looks and works.

This flimsy collection of pornography posing as ironic Art (capital "A") wasn't cohesive enough to be offensive, it was just juvenile, tedious and worst of all...BORING!

We saw (most of!) these folks:
  • F. Murray Abraham ("Dead Man Down") is The Margrave; he has the leering and lecherous looks down pat. He was perfect...but as what?
  • Flavio Parenti ("To Rome With Love") spends most of the time nude. I'm not sure why, but there it is....
  • Vincent Riotta (Lots of TV) is a cardinal who...gasp!...gets a woman pregnant! Revelatory!
I won't bore you with any more players, who play players (smile) hired to entertain The Margrave with depictions of pornography based on the Old Testament. The players want to buy a printing press, so they treat us to Adam and Eve; Lot drunkenly impregnating his two daughters; David killing Bathsheba's husband so he can have her for himself; Samson and Delilah; it goes on, but I don't want to talk about it any more... Even THIS bores me.
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Here is a U-Tube sample:
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Five Dances

This entry in the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival was submitted by the USA. Directed by Alan Brown ("Private Romeo"), we see an excep- tionally talented young dancer, fresh from Kansas, trying to come to terms with his unexplored sexuality in New York City.

We enjoy:
  • Ryan Steele ("Newsies" and "West Side Story" on Broadway) is our shy hero Chip, a powerful, precise and graceful dancer, living by the skin of his teeth, but rehearsing with a small, cohesive company of dancers. His disapproving mother wants him to "come back home" and quit "doin' wat'cher doin'." 
  • Reed Luplau ("Mao's Last Dancer") is Theo, one of the more experienced dancers in that little troupe. He makes the first amorous move, but Chip is shocked.
  • Catherine Miller (in her first film) is Katie, a kind-hearted member of the troupe who offers her couch to our sweet bumpkin.
The dance genre seems to be a combination of ballet and interpretive dance; by the fifth one, it has become a bit repetitive, but it's still a pleasure to watch. I couldn't help but wonder if the dancers are paid for their rehearsal time, and when is the performance? I know, picky picky....

If or when this is ever rated, it will probably be a PG-13 because of the subject matter.
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Here is a sample:
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This award-winning entry from Quebec (English captions when needed) is a welcome entry to the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival. "Camion" means "Truck" and sure enough, we open with a big log truck arriving at a mill, being loaded, then departing. As we watch it cross an open area, we gasp when a passenger car suddenly appears and hits it head on. It is a shocking crash!

Director Rafaël Ouellet brings us these players:
  • Julien Poulin is Germain, the truck driver, nearing retirement age, already a widower, with his two grown sons living some distance away. With this fatality weighing on his mind, he sinks into a deep depression.
  • Patrice Dubois is Samuel, his hard-working son. He works in the city as a janitor and still carries a torch for the girl he left behind. Going to see his unhappy father is only part of his reason for going back to his old home town.
  • Stéphane Breton is Alain, his not-so-hard-working son. He agrees to ride along with Samuel and try to help their father get over his crisis. This guy is very funny and has a great view of life.
  • Noémie Godin-Vigneau is Rebecca who has moved on with her life and wants Samuel to do the same.
Personally, I found several things outstanding. The simple fact of those three men working together, cutting, splitting and stacking wood, is clearly therapeutic. The hunting trip is very good for all three of them as well. (I had no idea the gizmos that are used on hunting trips these days!) The captions are terrific, they capture the humor and replicate the idiomatic nature of Alain's wit. There are two scenes whose composition took my breath away, thanks to cinematographer Geneviève Perron.

Expect no violence (Samuel's nosebleed is psychosomatic), no nudity, no vehicular mayhem (except for that collision) and no angst or betrayals. Each fellow ends up better than when he began, and there is a lot to be said for THAT!
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Here is a link to a trailer:
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This award-winning 2013 Seattle International Film Festival entry from Poland/Spain drew mixed reactions for Director Jasek Borcuch. "Nieulotne" (English captions) drew everything from "the worst film so far" to "I liked it!"

I am somewhere in between because the leading romantic duo is appealing, sort of like golden children, both very attractive and seemingly quite nice. They are Polish students who meet and fall in love during a bucolic summer in Spain. They are certainly hot together and seem to have a pleasant future.

Then in a moment, a blinding flash of rage changes both of their lives.

Featured are:
  • Jakub Gierszal as Michal, who has repaired an old motorcycle and rides it to a nearby lake...to his everlasting regret.
  • Magdalena Berus as Karina, the lovely young woman who wants to know what has him so upset.
We move into the "watching paint dry" phase of the film, with him reluctant to admit what he's done, and her reluctant to admit to him what her own situation has become. Sort of what he doesn't say and then what she doesn't say.

When everything is finally out in the open, you get to make up your own ending! How 'bout that!

No rating. Expect brief nudity and a mild bit of profanity. I think the subject matter would earn it a PG-13.
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Here is a link to the Sundance trailer:
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Mistaken For Strangers

What a peculiar documentary! For one thing, it shows the documentarian, Tom Berninger, to be as big a dimwit as I'm sure he really is. I can't imagine the family discussions as they agreed how to cut this thing and to actually release it. Doesn't he care how he looks?

Tom's older, very patient brother Matt, is a successful musician, fronting his Brooklyn-based band, The National. Through judicious begging, Tom lands a job as a roadie to go on tour with the band. It is instantly obvious that he tries the patience of everyone with whom he comes into contact.

He insists on filming his own personal documentary when he should be working for the band, e.g.,
  • he leaves tasks undone; 
  • he taxes everyone's good will; 
  • he drinks too much; 
  • he misses the bus; 
  • he embarrasses his brother and the band members; 
  • he fails to provide a list of celebrities at an opening night; 
  • he wastes time; 
  • he tries to get the food and the accommodations free, but is upset when he is fired. 
The manager tells him he "isn't a good fit." (Which is extremely kind!)
His interview questions are inane:
  • Do you carry wallets on stage?
  • Have you ever resented my brother?
  • How famous are you?
  • How many drugs have you done?
  • Then he talks about himself instead of doing the interview.
With great fanfare he announces the completion of his documentary. You have to see it to believe it. Our 2013 Seattle International Film Festival screening audience came out talking to ourselves.
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Here is a link to a trailer:
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Una Noche

This interesting and involving film was jointly submitted to the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival by Cuba and the United Kingdom (English captions). Directed by Lucy Mulloy, this movie has been honored at a variety of film festivals throughout the world, and has won numerous awards.

We find ourselves in Havana with some young adults, a young man and his twin sister, plus a gorgeous young man who works in the same restaurant as the male twin. Our handsome fellow dreams of returning to Miami to live with his father. It is interesting to view the city streets, we can tell that this place has seen better days....

We see these actors:
  • Javier Núñez Florián is Elio, who expects his twin sister to stay in Havana with their mother. Elio is desperately in love with Raul, so he wants to help him reach Miami. It is, after all, only 90 miles away and surely he can cobble together something that can float that far.
  • Anailín de la Rúa de la Torre is Lila, the twin sister. She is teased because she has dark hair on her arms, but she is indomitable. She has been inseparable from Elio since birth, but she can see that he has become fixated on Raul. She accepts that he is gay, but sticks to him like glue, nonetheless.
  • Dariel Arrechaga is Raul, beautiful from any angle, this muy guapo hombre seduces any and all people in his path. He is sure Lila will fall for his charms and is willing to let Elio sell everything he owns to buy the materials they need for their little floating disaster.
By the time Elio has accumulated all of his materials, both he and Raul are on the wrong side of the law, so now it is no longer just their desire to go to Miami, it is essential!

There is no rating, but this is from another country, so expect one blink-and-you'll-miss-it flash of male nudity, little or no profanity, an exciting chase on foot and no gunshots.

You are in for a nail-biting time with people you care about, particularly when they go to sea.
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Captions this trailer, Yippee:
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Pit Stop

Small towns want conformity. You shouldn't be too tall, too poor, too smart, too clever or too gay. This means the gay men in this small Texas town illustrated here must be discreet and socially acceptable.

This feature film from the USA features a terrific cast of sympathetic characters we can root for. Our 2013 Seattle International Film Festival screening audience was pleasantly satisfied.

We watched:
  • Bill Heck (Lots of TV) is Gabe, an attractive divorced man whose affair ended with his married lover, so he draws comfort from his former wife and his much-loved daughter. He is a hard-working, successful contractor.
  • Marcus DeAnda (Lots of TV) is Ernesto, who finally boots out his inconsiderate house-mate and tries to go it alone.
  • Amy Seimetz (Lots of TV) is Shannon, Gabe's former wife. She is trying to start dating again, but isn't having much luck. She's glad he's around so she has a shoulder to cry on.
  • John Merriman (numerous short films) is Winston, one of Shannon's co-workers. He is extremely shy and his first date with her isn't very successful.
We see other men move through this story, but their relations are handled with discretion and good taste. This film is not yet rated.
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Here is a brief trailer:
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Dirty Wars

...as opposed to Clean Wars?

This documentary submitted by the USA to the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival is directed by Richard Rowley and is based on investigative reporting by Jeremy Scahill, a reporter for The Nation. This exposé centers around an organization known as JSAC, which conducts top secret missions at the behest of the President of the United States. JSAC has existed for almost ten years but has enjoyed unprecedented fame with the capture and death of Osama bin Laden. Joint Special Operations Command answers to no military agency, not the CIA, not the United Nations, nor Congress.

Jeremy Scahill first came on the international journalistic radar as the author of Blackwater, an exposé of the hidden world of America's covert wars being conducted by contractors, not the American military. Scahill stumbled into bits and pieces of JSAC and quickly drew fire from the military and from the lap dogs who pretend to be television newscasters. That was how he knew he had hit a nerve.

Scahill says this organization claims to work harder and faster and the resulting collateral damage inflicted on civilians is uniformly denied by the powers that be. (1,700 night raids were conducted in Afghanistan in a single week.) The President has operatives in numerous countries now, many of which are considered allies of this country. An edict has been issued to assassinate an American citizen for being a terrorist, which is drawing fire from many groups, including the ACLU.

According to Scahill, we seem to be trying to kill our way to victory, although each time we kill ten terrorists, another hundred appear to take their place. This organization is hidden in plain sight and no end is in sight.

This documentary is thought provoking, capably photographed and is narrated by Scahill himself.
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Here is a preview:
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After Winter, Spring

This award-winning documentary from France/USA was, to me, an illustration of the circle of life. Our 2013 Seattle International Film Festival screening audience was diverted by bucolic scenes of small farms in the Périgord region of France, where farming is still evolving. One hundred years ago, 50% of the population farmed, now it is just 3%.

We interview an elderly man who will retire his vineyard after the harvest this season. He reasons that it is time, the tree he planted when he was young, is now a mature tree, but he knows that some day it too, will die.

We watch a goose-raising enterprise run by women, who force-feed their geese because there is still a good market for paté, which we all know is made from goose liver. They say the secret is to respect their animals.

We watch a dairy farmer who will cease production soon, because if he doesn't, his elderly parents will feel obligated to keep helping him. At one point, they had four cows, but now they have over one hundred and the profit is still just the same. Modern machinery can only do so much.

We see a couple from Canada who want to try organic farming, which is far more labor intensive, but is coming into vogue. He has to take a year off and work elsewhere in order for them to afford this experiment.

One beleaguered farmer must cope with voluminous paperwork AND deal with a crabby neighbor who complains about his noisy cowbells. He maintains that "the sky is in charge of farming."

A former peasant raises grapes, corn, tobacco, and hay; he sells milk, pork, beef, poultry and veal. He works non-stop and is a pleasant, bright fellow who points out that of the four families in his village, not one of them has a child willing to continue farming.

The narration is by a former Pennsylvania resident who has moved to France. She is fascinated by the lovely scenery, the ancient buildings and the skeins of geese who migrate across the sky each year. She feels optimistic that the trend for organic produce might be just what the small farmer needs, both in France and the United States.

Only time will tell....

No rating, but be aware that some poultry dies on screen.
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Push the start button on this preview:
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Short Term 12

This seems to be the name of a foster-care facility for at-risk youngsters up to age 18 when foster care is no longer an option. Our 2013 Seattle International Film Festival screening crowd was pleasantly surprised by the (slightly clichéd) individual stories that evolved over the course of this entry from the USA.

Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, who also wrote the screenplay, we become acquainted with a variety of youthful charges and their surprisingly youthful counselors. We see one (almost) 18-year-old boy anxiously prepare to face the world outside of an institution; we watch one boy whose only comfort is his tiny little toys...then they are taken from him; we worry about a teenage girl enrolled parttime in the program by her father who wants her home with him on the weekends.

The counselors are also a mixed bag: the central one is a young woman who shows amazing insight into the way she reaches her young charges. Plus she teaches them to vent by striking out at inanimate objects, NOT people. Her co-worker/boyfriend is an excellent example of how a foster family can work! Another co-worker is astonishingly tone deaf as he introduces himself on his first day at work. We see that these counselors sometimes need a bit of counseling of their own.

This is not a film designed to trash institutions, but instead an involving and interesting study of a variety of good people we want to see succeed. Yes, I said it: People we can root for!

Rated R (there is some highly profane rapping), there is a line I like: I live a life not knowing what a normal life's like.
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Here is a preview:
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