White House Down

Can a movie be preposterous and involving at the same time? Start with a fellow who has just been rejected for a Secret Service job at the White House and his little girl who was thrilled to go along with Daddy to this storied place, as they are swept into a guided tour of the White House. Now mix in some high level terrorists capturing the White House with ruthless violence and the answer is "Yes" for one simple reason: We have someone to root for.

This PG-13 outing directed by Roland Emmerich ("Independence Day" this guy LOVES to blow up the White House!) is another CGI fest that has an adequate (but predictable) 100-minute story that has been beefed up to 131 minutes with endless gunfights, fist fights and blowie uppie stuff. Given the topic, there must be some fighting, but enough is enough!

These folks did a fine job:
  • Channing Tatum ("Magic Mike") is Cale, the fellow who takes his daughter with him to the White House. Cale is a veteran of three tours in the mid-East, so he is no stranger to military tactics.
  • Jamie Foxx ("Django") is President Sawyer, frightened and earnest but dedicated to the IDEA of America, not to just one individual.
  • Joey King ("Ramona and Beezus") is Emily, a little girl with a cell phone. She gets separated from Daddy and is scared to death when she sees what's happening, but she's made of pretty stern stuff.
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal ("Hysteria") is Finerty, an official with the Secret Service; she has just rejected Cale for that job.
  • James Woods ("Jobs") is Walker, the head of the agency. He is smart and focused, but may be ill....
  • Michael Murphy (Lots of TV) is Vice President Hammond, whisked off to Air Force One for safe keeping.
  • Richard Jenkins ("Jack Reacher") is Raphelson, Speaker of the House. If the President and Vice President are dead, according to the Constitution, this modest fellow is next in line.
  • Jason Clarke ("The Great Gatsby") is once again, extremely effective as a bad guy. Stentz is a paramilitary leader, powerful, smart and determined to make this audacious power grab.
  • Nicolas Wright (Lots of TV) provides delicious bits of humor as Donnie the Guide, a gabby fellow who leads White House tours.
Despite over-the-top violence, we enjoy little bits of humor and appreciate the in-depth tour of the White House. Brace yourself for unexpected twists, no sweaty bodies and surprisingly little profanity. Be aware that key plot points are whispered while victims are hiding from armed thugs, so if you have any hearing problems, find a theater that offers closed captions, or wait for the DVD.

Always remember to suspend disbelief!
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Here is a trailer:
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Man of Steel

First of all, I'd like to point out that overkill is vastly overrated. That being said...

Yes, here it is. Another re-boot of a classic comic book ("graphic novel") ready to be one of the box office smashes of the summer. Be warned... this thing is looooong (143 minutes), so watch your liquid intake! I found it interesting that in the packed theater last night, I didn't see ONE person take a quick potty break, everyone was fascinated as we watched a little boy learn to cope with the sensory overload that accompanies x-ray vision, super hearing and uncommon strength. I had never given it a second thought, had you?

We have:
  • Henry Cavill ("Immortals") is our appealing new Kal-El/Superman. I hope this Brit is ready for the inevitable wave of publicity. He certainly looks the part and didn't embarrass himself in any way. He's craggier than Christopher Reeve, but has that same sweet, impossibly good-looking presence.
  • Amy Adams ("Trouble with the Curve") is Lois Lane, the bright- eyed reporter who is in our hero's face from the get-go. She's too smart and is eager to spill the beans about his identity. What a scoop for a reporter!
  • Russell Crowe ("Les Miserables") as Jor-El, sends his infant son from Krypton, his own doomed planet. The heart and soul of this 90-minute plot is launched by that decision.
  • Kevin Costner ("Hatfields & McCoys") is Jonathan Kent the wise corn farmer who pulls that infant from the space capsule and raises him as his own. He convinced ME he was from Kansas...
  • Diane Lane ("Secretariat") is Martha Kent, Clark's beloved "Ma."
  • Laurence Fishburne ("Contagion") is The Daily Planet newspaper publisher Perry White, in a nice update of the character.
  • Michael Shannon ("The Iceman") is General Zod, the main villain from Krypton, a zealot who never doubts for a moment that what HE believes, is absolutely right and true.
  • Antje Traue ("Seventh Son") is Faora-Ul, another survivor of Krypton; she proves to be just as indestructible as the other two.
As directed by Zack Snyder ("300"), we have a charming 90-minute movie expanded to 143 minutes by padding it with LOTS of fisticuffs, Computer Generated Imaging, blowie uppie stuff, gunfire, space ships, missiles, collapsing skyscrapers, a planet split in two, a school bus sinking into a river, space debris, and a nice farm in Kansas (shot in Illinois). When I complained about all the CGI, my companion noted that it's the only way Superman can save the planet! ...sigh...

Rated PG-13, this has surprisingly little blood, minimal profanity, one chaste kiss, many delicious bits of humor and the joy of watching decent people trying their best to do what's right. Oh! And be sure to suspend disbelief; this is, after all, a comic book.
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Take a peek:
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Low Profile

Well, here is the last film of the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival that I'll probably see. "Je me suis fait tout petit" is one of those French films (English captions) that comes across as sappy, predictable and sweet. Sure enough, this one is exactly that; as a result I was relaxed and happy with every minute of it.

Directed by Cécilia Rouaud ("Monsieur Batignole"), we watch a divorced man who is stuck. Five years ago, his wife left him for another man, had a child by him, then changed her mind...AGAIN..and is off to Thailand. His sister, who seems to be an obsessive/compulsive, is raising his two teenage girls, and now their little half-brother has also been sent to her.

We watch:
  • Denis Ménochet ("Inglorious Basterds") is our hapless hero, a school teacher who lives alone and has made plans to relocate to Brittany. He feels totally inadequate to be a parent. His daughters seem able to cope with their aunt's OCD, but he DOES feel sorry for that little four year old.
  • Vanessa Paradis ("Heartbreaker") is another teacher at his school. She is clumsy, forward, a mother of two and has a charming gap-toothed smile.
  • Léa Drucker ("Big Sister's Gang") is his sister, trying to take her meds and keep her OCD under control. She is a good-hearted, loving gal who really wants to see her brother get his mojo back.
  • Laurent Lucas ("The Meteor") is his brother-in-law. Every woman should have such a patient and understanding husband!
  • David Carvalho-Jorge, in his first film, is as darling as any little boy we could hope to see!
Of course, anything our hero does to avoid growing up and being a father seems to blow up in his face. He goes to great lengths to get that boy out of his sister's house but then seems stuck with him.

You will see no profanity, no sweaty bodies, no vehicular mayhem, no gunshots and no blowie uppie stuff, only people you like and hope to see succeed. Like I said, "sappy, predictable and sweet." ...smile...
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No English captions, but see how cute that boy is:
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Hearts of the West

Vintage Bridges! In this delightful 1975 film, Jeff Bridges plays Lewis Tater a would-be author of escapist fiction that features the Wild West, a la Zane Grey, the foremost writer of Western fiction in 1920s dime novels. To that end, our Iowa farm boy has saved enough money to enroll in a Nevada-based college for writers. Rather than send his hard-earned money by mail, he figures he can kill two birds with one stone: if he takes his money to the campus in person, he will also be in a great place where he can learn how to be a cowboy.

By the time he flees into the desert he has been bilked, robbed and disillusioned; but he stumbles onto a movie set and our story begins.

We see:
  • Jeff Bridges ("True Grit") ever so young and soooo appealing. His character has just the right blend of naiveté and smarts, but his descriptions of his drama as it unfolds are hilarious. Tater always reminds anyone who will listen that he's a writer!
  • Blythe Danner ("The Lucky One") is a production assistant on the movie set. With an ever-present cigarette dangling from her lips, she can see our hero's potential before anyone else.
  • Andy Griffith ("Waitress") is one of the extras in these westerns, which are produced like sausages in a factory. An actor's pay is determined by when he dies and if he has a line.
  • Alan Arkin ("Argo") is the over-stressed director. His methods for motivating his actors are very funny, and very effective. Arkin won a New York Film Critics Circle award as Best Supporting Actor for this role.
  • Herb Edelman ("The Golden Girls") is the money man, weary and disgruntled.
This modest little PG-13 outing has a charming hero, a wise heroine, sly villains, delightful peeks at early film making and enough awards and praise to prove that sometimes audiences are right! For years, all I could get was the VHS tape, but I see that it is now available on DVD. Good Luck!

NOTE: No Closed Captions
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The only link I have is for the film itself, I have NOT tested it:
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This brought back memories.... I live in Seattle and lost many friends to AIDS, so this U.S. film screened for the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival was a painful reminder of the sea change that occurred after AIDS appeared on the horizon.

Award-winning director Chris Mason Johnson ("The New Twenty") brings us:
  • Newcomer Scott Marlowe as Frankie, a dancer in a modern dance company located in 1985 San Francisco. Rumors about AIDS are flying and he has become hyper-vigilant about his health, checking for spots, lumps, discolorations, etc. It is with mixed feelings he gets the news about a test for HIV which will tell him whether or not he is doomed (no treatment is yet in the offing). Next he has to work up the courage...
  • Matthew Risch (Lots of TV) is Todd, the witty, worldly dancer in Frankie's troupe. His off-hand attitude about AIDS frightens Frankie.
  • Damon K. Sperber (Lots of TV) is the doctor our hero finally visits. He promises Frankie total confidentiality about the results. We hold our breath....
There are several lengthy dance sequences that I enjoyed, although they finally DID become repetitive. One humorous R-rated moment was watching a couple of men awkwardly try condoms for the first time; that was a whole new thing for gay men! In addition, I enjoyed watching our hero wrestle with that curly cord on his landline telephone! I had forgotten how tangled they could become.
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Here is a U-Tube dance excerpt:
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In "Invasor" (English captions), this highly acclaimed entry from Spain takes our 2013 Seattle International Film Festival screening audience to Iraq with Allied troops, this time they are from Spain. We are with a couple of medicos who are evacuating a civilian when their vehicle hits an IED. In the bloodbath that follows, they are the only survivors. They cautiously approach a remote village and take shelter in a home that contains three women and a young girl.

In this US Premier, director Daniel Calparsoro skillfully manipulates us through the horrific action that follows, only to take us back to Spain where one of the doctors begins to suspect a cover up.

We see:
  • Alberto Ammann as Pablo, a decent man, who has a wife and daughter. As he recuperates from his wounds, he is approached by a man offering a significant sum of money if he will sign a non-disclosure document. He needs to talk with his fellow survivor because what he remembers doesn't match what he is supposed to sign.
  • Antonio de la Torre is Diego, a practical fellow, who can see that they might as well sign the paper; they will never see things made right by the military.
  • Inma Cuesta is Ángela, our hero's lovely wife. She wants him to sign and get on with his life.
As we follow Pablo's frantic attempt to discover and then disclose the truth, we are in a white-knuckle car race, a watery dash through a harbor, and a desperate attempt to protect his family. We have people to care about, issues to outrage us, and a reminder that War is Hell.

This is an exciting war movie with non-stop action and convincing actors. If you don't like War Movies, do NOT go to this one!
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Here is SIFF's trailer:
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Last Flight to Abuja

Stories with unrelated people whose lives intersect in a crashing climax, e.g., "Crash" or "The Bridge at San Luis Rey," are a big hit with me. This award-winning but wonderfully pulpy Nollywood film (from Nigeria's burgeoning film industry) is one such feature. Strictly low-budget with very little Computer Generated Imaging (Yippee!), our 2013 Seattle Inter- national Film Festival screening audience was treated to a variety of people, all of whom intend to take an evening flight to Abuja, the capital of Nigeria.

As directed by Nigeria's rising star Obe Emelonye, we have many articulate, well-educated, witty people to root for (my favorite!), to deride, and to wonder about. This audience-pleasing thriller has an in-flight emergency announcement that is shown three times. Each time, we know more of the stories about the people on board, how they got there, and what they hope to achieve.

As a former pilot, I appreciate the treatment given the flight crew: despite our first impressions, they are hard-working, decent folks who really know their jobs!

Among many characters, we can expect:
  • A felon, who has a large quantity of money on board;
  • An ex-fiancée, who just caught her guy with another woman;
  • A rejected lover, trying to focus on his job;
  • A father, who spoils his little girl, much to his wife's chagrin;
  • A diabetic, who thinks dying of diabetes is preferable to dying in a plane crash;
  • A co-pilot, whose co-workers think is a lesbian because she flies airplanes.
If this is a sample of the films we can expect from Nollywood, just tell me where to buy my tickets; this one is excellent! The frequent flashbacks are informative and further the story. In addition, we have more invested with each character as we come to know him or her better; AND it provides terrific, unobtrusive captions, despite the dialog being in English. Whew!
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This U-Tube preview is provided by SIFF:
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Unhung Hero

"Does size matter?"

This seems to be the question on the minds of countless men and women in this over-sexed Age of Porn as "comparison shopping" pervades our daily love lives.

An over-confident young man plans an elaborate wedding proposal on live television during a major league game, only to have his "intended" refuse his plea. His humiliation was aired on U-Tube and scored over a million hits. When he later asked her why she turned him down, she explained that his penis was too small. Yikes!

This US documentary screened for a packed 2013 Seattle International Film Festival audience had more information about men and their "packages" than I ever want to see again! Eighty-four minutes of scams: witch-doctors, pumps, injections, pills, weights, massages, potions, lotions, notions, and many, many more dreams and schemes offered to our disconsolate swain.

We watched stand-up comic Patrick Moote, embark on a wryly humorous international journey to find a "cure" for his slightly less-than-normal-size genitalia. He visits sex shops, therapists, and various spots in Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Hawaii, Europe and many more, only to return back to the U.S. where a local pundit reassures him that "a handful is all you need."

In my opinion, his best two bits of advice came from 1) His mother, and 2) Dan Savage, a Seattle columnist.

I would like to add that 50% of the audience was riveted by this docu- mentary and the rest of us certainly were NOT bored. (Although I hid my eyes a couple of times.)

Comrade President

In 1498 Vasco da Gama was exploring a sea route to India by going around the Cape of Good Hope. En route to India, he "discovered" what became Mozambique and claimed it for Portugal. That claim stood the test of time for more than four centuries until 1975, when revolutionary forces untied the Gordian Knot and ousted the Portuguese.

In this award-winning documentary "Camarada presidente" (English captions) from Zimbabwe, our 2013 Seattle International Film Festival screening crowd was treated to the history of that revolution, who led it, and what happened afterward.

As directed by Mosco Kamwendo, we see extensive interviews with:
  • Graça Machel, the fourth wife of the revolutionary leader Samora Moises Machel, who was the inspiration behind the troops, a determined tactician, and ultimately, a naïve politician. Graça was still married to him at the time of his death in a mysterious plane crash in 1986.
  • Kenneth Kaunda, the first President of Zambia, a man who was an intelligent and insightful observer to the drama that played itself out in neighboring Mozambique.
  • Samora Moises Machel himself, who had countless interviews, newsreels of his speeches, diplomatic visits to Great Britain, South Africa and various Socialist states. We watch his zeal as a patriot gradually become what to me, appeared to be a zeal to retain his position of power. 
We are often reminded that Power corrupts, but it was with dismay we saw the new republic become an unhappy place with its own concentration camps, assassinations, torture and betrayal. Finally we are forced to admit that it isn't power that corrupts, but the ABUSE of power....

This saga is far too complex to oversimplify with a brief review; go see this one for yourself.
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This U-Tube clip is provided by SIFF:
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Hoarding has long been considered an eccentricity. This quasi-documentary proves that it is far more toxic; just watch how it radiates through a family. Submitted by the USA and capably directed by Diane Crespo, our 2013 Seattle International Film Festival audience members had mixed responses. In my opinion, the direction and the acting were far better than the story, although I admit that it's pretty hard to find much comedy in a film about a hoarder.

We watched:
  • Carol Kane ("Sleepwalk with Me") as the matriarch of a dysfunctional family. Her home is crammed with treasures accumulated over the past 20 years or so, since her husband left her with three children and a houseful of collectibles. She still can't pass a "Garage Sale" or "Yard Sale" sign!
  • Joshua Leonard (Lots of TV) is her oldest child, kind, patient and trying to keep his mother's neurosis under control...until that crabby neighbor finally has had too much and calls the authorities.
  • Natasha Lyonne ("New Girl") is the angry sister, coping with a dying aunt, a job, and a mother who can't listen to reason. She insists that the faint Madonna image on the garage door which has attracted a crowd of worshipers, is a water stain.
  • Halley Feiffer (Lots of TV) nearly steals the show as the painfully shy sister who has a gift for staging houses that soon will go on the market. Her hands alone deserve an award!
It's funny/sad to watch a hoarder when she sees her own "stuff" on display at her garage sale. Things get pretty physical! Of course, we must suspend disbelief because this is clearly a sanitized version of hoarding...although there IS a cockroach!


Evergreen: The Road to Legalization in Washington

Every U.S. President from Nixon up through Obama has stressed the importance of winning the war on drugs. Near the end of this 2013 Seattle International Film Festival documentary, one of the principal activists shouts, "Obama, tear down this wall!"

Directed by Riley Morton, this interesting and entertaining collection of news clips, interviews and speeches illustrate the determined forces that came into play during the 2012 campaign to legalize marijuana in the State of Washington. Surprisingly, part of their opposition came from a pro-legalization group who pointed out that this law is poorly written and should have followed the lead of Colorado, where an individual can have six plants without breaking the law. They maintain that the current law makes criminals of the users of medical marijuana.

We watch:
  • Rick Steves, the travel guru, who made it his personal mission to decriminalize pot. He maintains, and rightly so, that the current laws are racist. Because pot is both illegal and ubiquitous, the police use the law to arrest more black and brown youths than white. Seattle has a 60% arrest rate for people of color, while our population is only 5% colored.
  • Pete Holmes, Seattle City Attorney, vowed never to prosecute users of marijuana. He has kept his promise and furthermore, released prisoners being held on pot charges when the election was over.
  • Vivian McPeak has coordinated Seattle's Hempfest each year since 1991. He states that there has never been an accident or injury during the festivities.
  • Doug Hiatt is the profanely outspoken critic of the proposed law because it will make large growers rich and still not clearly address the issues. He feels the law, as passed, will require major rewrites in order to hold up under the long haul.
At one hearing, a gentleman set a single marijuana plant on the desk. He said, "This makes a criminal of me in Washington." A black minister sitting next to him said, "But you won't be arrested, because you are white!"
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The only preview I have is this U-Tube one from SIFF:
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"Ali" is a precocious, witty, lovely young woman who works in a big-box store, "dates" (at arm's length) a co-worker, and lives with her emotionally troubled mother. This entry from Spain (English captions) was an unlikely feel-good surprise at the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival.

Our heroine has a few issues, so she protects herself from 1) Falling in love, and 2) Learning to drive. She watches her erratic mother with her erratic love life and vows she will NEVER allow it to happen to HER! In addition, she has studied statistics and knows there are more red cars in auto accidents than any other color. (All of her imagined vehicular catastrophes feature red automobiles.)

The co-worker is a nice young man who records sounds for background details used in recordings. He is a patient, gentle fellow who can't quite understand why she is the way she is. Her driving instructor is equally patient and repeatedly gets her into a gigantic, empty (!), parking lot so she can work up the nerve to drive his maroon (NOT red!) car.

There are so many delicious bits of dialogue, I have to stifle the urge to repeat many of them here, but that would spoil the film for YOU; so just believe me when I say you'll smile or laugh out loud more than once!

Director Paco R. Baños shows us how clear-eyed and good hearted she is and why she is so determined to live her life her own way. Her biggest test is when her mother gets a new boyfriend (again!). BTW, it seems to me that the wonderful actress who plays "Ali" suffers from scoliosis. This easily could have been concealed. Has no one noticed?
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This preview from SIFF is very slow to load:
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Wish You Were Here

Four Australian friends take a carefree vacation in southeast Asia. They visit some of the remnants of the Killing Fields in Cambodia, shop for souvenirs and generally have a great time. Problem is, only three of them come back and the whereabouts of the fourth one becomes a highly charged mystery as this happy, sunny story takes a sinister turn and never goes back!

We see:
  • Joel Edgerton ("Warrior") is the concerned family man, with a boatyard to run, two little children, a third on the way, and a wife he adores. But he CAN be talked into a little vacation...
  • Felicity Price (Lots of TV) is the pregnant wife. It's her sister dating the importer who talks her and her husband into joining them on vacation.
  • Teresa Palmer ("Warm Bodies") is the lovely younger sister who is a bit of a loose cannon.
  • Antony Starr (Lots of TV) is the handsome importer who initiates the trip. His whereabouts is the bone of contention with our trio, the drug enforcement people, and a few others I won't name.
In my opinion, director Kieran Darcy-Smith (who also wrote the screen- play) uses an unnecessary number of flashbacks in this R-rated thriller. I found myself trying to spot how far along the pregnant wife was so I could tell how far back we were "flashing." But the children, particularly the little boy, are beautifully directed!
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Here is a trailer:
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