The 100-Year-Old Man...

To Fool a Thief

As our program says, "Who can scam a scammer?" This wonderful heist caper from Argentina (English captions) delighted a full house at the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival this afternoon. "Vino Para Robar" does indeed involve stealing wine, so the original caption is pretty apt, too.

Director Ariel Winograd brings us:
  • Daniel Handler as Sebastián, a high-end cat burglar, hot on the trail of a gold mask in an art museum. It is instantly obvious that this handsome fellow knows precisely what he is doing!
  • Pablo Rago is Mario, Sebastián's vitally important tech support. This bespectacled guy just screams "geek" but his back-up value is indisputable. His German girlfriend taught him, "Sometimes even a blind chicken finds a grain of corn."
  • Valeria Bertuccelli is Natalia, who isn't immediately obvious as a thief, until she slickly outwits our hero. He never sees it coming; she's such a blabbermouth, he doesn't realize she's smart. But they join forces for that rare bottle of Malbek...sorta...
This launches a series of crosses, double crosses, criss crosses and every other kind of cross I can think of. I love to watch smart people try to outwit other smart people. It keeps me guessing as well as the characters. I looked around and the audience was raptly fixated on the screen because sometimes the clues were subtle, other times, not so much...

We had great fun!


A Million Ways to Die in the West

Seth MacFarlane ("Ted") wrote, directed and starred in this VERY R-rated Western that sends up the genre, even though everyone plays it straight!

From the first note of the classic Western score by Joel McNeely and the first breathtaking shot of Monument Valley, Utah by cinematographer Michael Barrett, I knew we were in for a full-out gallop! Be prepared for a lewd, racist, raunchy, sexist, gross, clichéd, disgusting, scatological, 116 laugh-out-loud minutes. I can't begin to tell you all the surprise guests; you wouldn't believe me anyway.

If you've seen "Ted" there are very few surprises. This movie is violent (someone is crushed to death), profane (it's Seth MacFarlane!), has gunfights (it's a Western), but not one bit of blowie uppie stuff. It veers wildly amid contemporary topical humor, in-crowd jokes and parodies of "real" westerns, ...all done with a tip of the Stetson, an unorthodox showdown, and a straight face.

This is the cast:
  • Seth MacFarlane ("Family Guy") is Albert, a straight-arrow sheep farmer in love with Louise, a big-eyed charmer, who is getting really bored.
  • Amanda Seyfried ("The Big Wedding") Louise is bored, bored, bored.
  • Neil Patrick Harris ("The Smurfs") is Foy, who has a dashing mustache and is NOT boring!
  • Giovanni Ribisi ("Gangster Squad") is the virginal Edward, engaged these many years to....
  • Sarah Silverman ("Gravy") Ruth is a working girl with a heart of gold...and a potty mouth. She wears a crucifix and lovingly declines premarital sex with Edward because "We're Christians!"
  • Charlize Theron ("Promethius") is Anna, the mysterious new woman in town who takes a shine to our brow-beaten hero. I have never seen Theron sling a gun or do comedy before and she's terrific!
  • Liam Neeson ("Non-Stop") is Clinch (great name!), Anna's husband, a notorious gunman come to settle the score because he has heard a rumor about his wife.... Watch her give him a flower!
There are times when people are not in the mood for a socially redeeming film, but instead want a knock-down, drag-out comedy. That was our audience tonight; we had a great time. I'll own the DVD because I know I missed some great one-liners.
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Take a look at an interview
(you have to be 17 or older and register to see the trailer):
If you really want to see the trailer, YOYO:
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Now we get to see "Sleeping Beauty" from the viewpoint of the fairy godmother who cursed Princess Aurora. I can't believe this is a PG-rated movie! The Computer Generated Imaging isn't a surprise, but the fangs (wolves, dragons and monsters), the fights (tree-like behemoths wipe out a human army) and the fury (Maleficent gets really, really mad!) are violent and scary. People are slapped, the king cuffs his soldiers around and netting made of chains engulfs several unfortunates. We see spears, swords and daggers thrust at a trapped Maleficent.

Disney just isn't the Disney I came to expect when I was a child!

The cast:
  • Angelina Jolie ("The Tourist") is Maleficent, the vengeful fairy, disappointed in love and bitter because "Love's True Kiss" wasn't true after all. On the other hand, it's fun to watch her lurk and sometimes intercede...to our surprise, and HERS!
  • Sam Riley ("On the Road") is Diavel, Maleficence's familiar: Sometimes he's a raven, sometimes a horse, or a wolf, or... whatever...
  • Elle Fanning ("We Bought a Zoo") plays Aurora, the sweet princess who is cursed at birth by Maleficent. She is so consistently sunny and upbeat it wears a bit thin for Maleficent.
  • Juno Temple is Thistletwit, Lesley Manville is Flittle, and Imelda Staunton is Knotgrass. Together these pixies make the world's most inept team of babysitters.
  • Sharlto Copley ("The A-Team") is Stefan, the young love who isn't true to Maleficent after all, in fact he betrays her on the most basic level: he cost her those wonderful wings. Aurora is his daughter.
  • Brenton Thwaites ("The Signal") is Prince Phillip, who comes to save the day...or not... You've gotta see what happens! (Decon- struction of a well-known fairy tale can have its moments!)
Parental Guidance is the key. Parents MUST know what to expect. Very few adults read anything about movies before they take their youngsters these days, so there may be some outrage and some traumatized kiddos. Oh well.... I tried.... And there IS a happy ending...eventually.
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Take a look:
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B for Boy

This wonderful, unpredictable film was submitted by Nigeria (English captions) for the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival. SIFF has also nominated it for our New Director's Showcase Award.

What does a 40-year-old Nigerian woman do when she MUST bear a male heir? This award-winning film (Breakthrough Award - AFI Film Festival 2013) marks Chika Anadu's debut as a director. We are subjected to a painful lesson in discrimination against women in the names of culture and religion. We come to understand the powerful influences brought into play by tribal traditions, family needs, education, evangelical religion and love.

We watch:
  • Uche Nwadili as Amaka, who will be somehow to blame if she has conceived a boy. She is understandably reluctant to have a sonogram; she's afraid of what she might learn.
  • Nonso Odogwu plays Nonso, the steadfast, successful son married to Amaka. Theirs is a love match, but he understands his mother's anguish.
  • Frances Okeke is Joy, an unwed mother whose situation triggers a series of unexpected complications.
  • Ngozi Nwaneto is Mama, a cruel source of unrelenting pressure, particularly after her younger (wastrel) son dies unexpectedly.
This film is runs almost two hours but I was never bored. I was pulled in deeper and deeper as Amaka's situation became more and more complex. And Amaka is definitely a person I could root for. If you see this film, let's talk about the ending, okay?

Alex of Venice

The 2014 Seattle International Film Festival welcomed this film submitted by the US. It's nominated for the SIFF New American Cinema Award for 2014.

Directed by Chris Messina ("The Newsroom"), we watch as a workaholic environmental attorney is suddenly left by her husband; now she has to make her own life. This is actually harder than it sounds because he is a stay-at-home artist and house-husband. He makes the meals, gets their son to and from school, tends the house, makes sure her father stays on his meds and neglects his art. He becomes understandably frustrated, while she is under the gun at work.

We see:
  • Mary Elizabeth Winstead ("The Spectacular Now") Our heroine Alex, has a big case involving some nearby wetlands scheduled for destruction to make way for an upscale development.
  • Derek Luke ("The Americans") is the successful developer our heroine is determined to beat. Problem is, he's also handsome... and charming...
  • Chris Messina ("The Mindy Project") plays George, Alex's husband who feels they have grown apart. He is a kind, decent man, but isn't happy.
  • Skylar Gaertner (Lots of TV) is their son Dakota, understandably upset by the situation at home. He is also a budding artist and has no friends at school. He has no one to talk to....
  • Julianna Guill (Lots of TV) is Anya, her sister; Dad called her to help Alex make this transition. She is a big overgrown kid with a driver's license, but the best thing ever to happen to Dakota.
  • Don Johnson ("The Other Woman") is her father, who seems to falter after George leaves. Is he still getting his meds like he should? He was a former TV star who is cast in "The Cherry Orchard," not realizing what a challenge Chekov can be.
Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I got the impression that Venice, California is a pleasant, sort of laid-back community of surfers and well-to-do former hippies.

The final ten minutes of this movie belong to Don Johnson! He's wonderful and he owes Director Messina big time for this showcase!


First Snowfall

This Italian submission (English captions) to the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival was directed by Andrea Segre; it offered several things:
  • Endless shots of lovely forested areas in the Italian Alps, some looking straight up to the tree tops.
  • People walking and running through lovely forested areas.
  • Boys walking and running through lovely forested areas.
  • A couple of quick little naps during which I didn't seem to lose track of the story, which basically was: boy loses father, boy finds father figure, boy loses father figure, boy gets father figure.
I realize this is harsh; there was a great deal of care and talent invested in this project, but I lost patience part way in. I feel fairly certain that the main focus of the film was supposed to be the man hired by the beekeeper, but the boy was on screen far more often.

The cast:
  • Paolo Pierobon is Gus, the fatherless boy.
  • Matteo Marchel is Michelle, his widowed (and lonely) mother.
  • Jean-Christophe Folly is Dani, a war veteran from Togo, seeking asylum.
  • Peter Mittenrrutzner is Pietro, the grizzled beekeeper who employs Dani.
Grandpa understands the boy and realizes how important a father is to a family. Gus can sleep without his recurring nightmares when he is with Grandpa. I just lost interest.

Amira & Sam

This World Premiere submitted from the USA to the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival looks at two outsiders who must learn to tolerate one another as one segues back into civilian life and the other has to learn a new country's requirements for citizenship and qualify before being deported. We were ready for a nice romantic comedy, so this was just the ticket!

Writer/director Sean Mullin brings us:
  • Martin Starr is Sam, back from an overseas deployment, returning to a country he scarcely recognizes. His attempt at stand-up comedy is pretty dismal so he is happy to accept a job offer from an old friend. This guy isn't handsome in a classic way, but he is more and more appealing as the movie goes on.
  • Dina Shihabi is Amira, busy selling bootlegged DVDs on a street corner. Threatened with jail and the inevitable deportation, she accepts Sam's offer to hide out in his tiny apartment. Amira is so gorgeous and has such a wacky sense of humor, she is engaging and sexy.
  • Paul Wesley is Charlie, an old friend who offers Sam a sweet deal. It's just that the SEC is investigating him.....
This story is contrived and (sorta) predictable, but both of the leads are people we root for, and to me, that is irresistible. They do one scene squished together in a single bed, fully clothed, that runs, uncut, for over five minutes. It's expertly done, and I salute them! We came out with smiles on our faces.
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Here is a preview:
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Week Five of the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival press screenings began with "Lagerfeuer" (English captions), a harrowing tale about a woman and her son who escape from East Germany in 1975. Christian Schwochow ("Cracks in the Shell") directs this award-winning film (Best Actress in both the 2014 German Film Awards and the 2013 Montreal World Film Festival, plus the FIPRESCI Prize in Montreal) with screenplay by Heide Schwochow based on the novel by Julia Franck.

The cast:
  • Jördis Triebel as Nelly, eager for asylum in West Berlin, she begins to see another side to a fellow she had known for years, the father of her son, who died in a fiery car crash. She quickly comes under scrutiny by government agents, which raises the question, "Is he really dead?"
  • Tristan Göbel is her son Alexej, who still misses his dad. Children in the West Berlin school aren't very kind to the "scum" who have come seeking asylum, so he is bullied.
  • Alexander Scheer is Hans, a fellow who tries to befriend them but her paranoia won't allow it, even though her son really needs a father figure in his life.
It's clear why Jördis Triebel was honored for this film. We watch as she is humiliated at the border by officious guards; how she is insulted by the low-level job she is offered despite having a PhD in Organic Chemistry; how the questions asked of her become questions she asks herself.

Expect nudity, beatings, smoking and a smattering of profanity. I felt this was a worthwhile film, although it certainly wasn't "fun."

The Internet's Own Boy

I like to think of myself as well informed, but in talking with other audience members after we exited the press screening of this wonderful (and tragic) story, we realized how much we did NOT know!

"The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz" is the full name of this US sponsored documentary. It is a tribute to Aaron Swartz, who championed open sourcing (he helped develop the basic Internet protocol RSS and co-founded Reddit) and believed in social justice, but committed suicide in 2013.

Our 2014 Seattle International Film Festival press screening audience was riveted by this compelling story about a highly principled young man who wanted to make the world a better place. Aaron is a happy, articulate fellow in news clips, a bubbly little guy in home movies and a hero in personal interviews with friends, colleagues and lovers. He was a programming protégé (attending national conferences by age 14) and an information activist.

Governmental agencies, already guilty of condoning abuses perpetrated by the big banks, wanted to demonstrate their diligence by prosecuting this young man. Aaron Swartz believed public information should be public, not locked up by for-profit agencies. He believed intellectual property, developed at tax payers' expense, should not be locked up by publicly funded institutions like MIT, and only made available to potential users for a fee to a for-profit company. The Obama Administration used the "Terms and Conditions" fine print for Internet use to charge him with seven felonies.

I know, I know, that paragraph needs to be re-read several times. It would be easier to go see the movie. I can't possibly convey all the important information we learned in this logical, lucid and important documentary.

My own personal take: My friends, if those "Terms and Conditions" are enforced, we are ALL lawbreakers. These only come into play when government has nothing else to use.
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See what you think:
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Elsa & Fred

What a pleasure to watch a top-notch 2014 American remake of a top- notch 2005 Spanish film. "Fred y Elsa" won the Golden Space Needle Award a few years ago so we happily lined up again for the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival screening of this new version.

Director Michael Radford, working with scriptwriter Anna Pavignano, has enlisted a gold-plated cast for this predictable and utterly enjoyable story. "Predictable" isn't always bad, there are times we have a pretty good idea where we are going, but we also know we are going to enjoy every step of the way getting there. On the other hand, who could have predicted that broken pipe?

We watch:
  • Christopher Plummer ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" 2011) is curmudgeonly Fred, recently widowed and moved against his will from his home into a small apartment where he is stuck with an in-home health care worker. (How in the world can a man Plummer's age be so handsome!)
  • Shirley MacLaine ("Downton Abbey") We first meet Elsa when she backs into a car owned by Fred's son-in-law that's parked in front of the apartment building. His skateboarding grandson witnesses the incident so she tries to swear him to secrecy. She has no more than a passing acquaintance with the truth, but wait until she finally takes Fred out to a fancy restaurant. You'll laugh!
  • Marcia Gay Harden ("The Newsroom") is his daughter Lydia, anxious to get him settled and determined to keep that strange new neighbor away from her "poor old" father.
  • Chris Noth ("The Good Wife") is his son-in-law Jack, always with a new get-rich-quick scheme.
  • Scott Bakula ("Behind the Candelabra") is Elsa's wonderful son Raymond, successful, loving and wryly supportive.
  • Erika Alexander ("Last Man Standing") is Laverne, that unwelcome in-home health care worker. She is wise and patient.
  • Wendell Pierce ("The Wire") is Armande, the manager of the building where our folks live. See the look on his face when he figures out what's going on....
The point of the movie is that it's never too late to enjoy life. These people do not try to pretend that they are anything other than their own age, they are frankly over the hill and have made their peace with it. We should all be so wise...
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Am I just getting crabby? It was instantly obvious that this would have more changing partners than a square dance! This USA entry to the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival bills itself as a "sharp, character-driven drama" but I stubbornly started looking for someone to admire. Maybe I will when actors learn how to realistically handle supposedly full containers of hot coffee or tea. For some reason, that annoys me.

Written and directed by Ryan Piers Williams, we see:
  • America Ferrera ("Cesar Chavez") as Sylvia, the first and last person we see. Clearly she is from Venus and the poor guys in her orbit are from Mars. I want to emphasize however, that in my opinion, Ms. Ferrera has a charismatic screen presence and the camera loves her even when the character she plays isn't particularly sympathetic.
  • Ryan Piers Williams ("Blues") is Mark, the first Martian she alienates; she wants to talk about feelings! His agent observes that would-be scriptwriters say "I went to film school so I have to make ART!" Mark fires him.
  • Common ("LUV") is another poor Martian who drifts into Sylvia's orbit.
  • Melonie Diaz ("Fruitvale Station") as Jen, our heroine's best friend, who seems to be unemployed and uncommitted. She leaves items with lovers so she has an excuse to see them again. This actress looks totally at home on the New York City streets.
  • Danny Deferrari (Lots of TV) is Phil, who works in a coffee shop and is spotted by Jen.
  • Jon Paul Phillips ("Kilimanjaro" 2013) is so good looking it's spooky. His character is an omni-sexual kind of guy who made me think of Jude Law.
I haven't begun to itemize all of the pairings and partners in this film. At least it isn't completely predictable even though the ending left me hanging...
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Here is a clip from the film:
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A Patriotic Man

"Isänmaallinen mies" has been submitted to the 2014 Seattle Inter- national Film Festival by Finland (English captions). Directed by Arto Halonen, this is the story of a doleful fellow who just happens to have special blood, rich in red blood cells, which is exactly what the Finnish Olympic Ski Team needs in order to bring glory to their often overlooked country. Will he be a patriot or not?

In this acclaimed comedy (nominated for Best Makeup and Best Director - Jussi Awards 2014), we can see that every country gets the hero is deserves. But we also see that this is not quite as funny as we expect because some serious issues come up. BTW, I was amused to see seven Olympic rings at the meet, isn't the symbol five rings? ...just a thought...

We see:
  • Martti Suosalo is Toivo, our patriotic man...or not...who feels that being a jobless drunk is better than just being jobless. The abundant hemoglobin in his blood delivers oxygen to the cells. Untreated, it killed his father in his 40s, but there is an effective treatment now.
  • Pamela Tola is Aino, who skis for the team and needs a bit of a boost. Toivo's O-Positive blood is just the ticket. She is pretty pragmatic about it, which reflects the attitude of her coach.
We hear the rationale for "juicing" which is the same, no matter what the sport, whether it's pro football, Olympic sports, cycling, track and field, or boxing. The main concern is how not to get caught because they know the competition uses performance-enhancing drugs and they want a level playing field.

This is not predictable, and that's a good thing, but it was hard to find someone to root for. Unfortunately that is one of my primary needs when I view a film. And the ending is unsettling.


Human trafficking is never pretty, so we brace ourselves to witness the story of a 13-year-old girl sent to India to work but instead is actually sold into a brothel. This 2014 Seattle International Film Festival entry from the UK/Nepal/India/USA is directed by Jeffrey Brown and is based on the award-winning best seller by Patricia McCormick, adapted by Joseph Kwong.

My defense shields were set to "High" because I felt the audience was a bit voyeuristic watching as little virgins were deflowered, but I DID appreciate the scenes that emphasize that these are children! They drop water-filled condoms on unwary passersby below. To sip a bubbly Coke is a revelation, as is the burp. They play with kites, and our girl's favorite present is a yellow pencil!

We watch:
  • Niyar Saikia in her first role, is Lakshmi, our determined little girl who never gives up trying to run away, despite punishment and degradation. This young actress does NOT look Nepalese.
  • Gillian Anderson ("Hannibal") plays Sophia, who pretends to be in the same order of nuns as Mother Teresa as she covertly takes photographs.
  • David Arquette (Lots of TV) brings us Sam, an American who is working with that child rescue agency. I think he had a total of two lines....
Now may I please talk about what I did NOT like?
  • This had no captions, so all the dialogue is in heavily accented English.
  • I don't think a subsistence-level Nepalese family would speak idiomatic English within the confines of their own home. This is totally unrealistic!
  • The worn-out idea of the white people always being the saviors for those "poor brown folks" ...again... makes me weary, and embarrasses me. My alarm bells started to jangle right away!
  • No charitable agency would spend all that time and money on one little victim. That's a poor use of charity funds!
The Himalayas are handsome and scenic, but some of those shots looked like they were mounted on a back wall in the studio. Bollywood could do this sooooo much better!


My taste buds have been tingling every since I watched that first scene in the restaurant kitchen; this one is a "foodie's" paradise! Mouth-watering food, dazzlingly expert preparation and irresistible presentation make it almost pornographic: I wanted the address of that restaurant! Of course when a witty food critic trashes the place, everything comes to a head (I won't tell you how it happens): our chef is fired by his father, who owns the place, so reluctantly he hits the road for Miami, where he ventures into his own business with a food truck.

Producer/writer/director Jon Favreau ("Iron Man") brings us:
  • Jon Favreau ("Identity Thief") as Carl, the poor fellow we are rooting for. We want him to bond with his son, mend his fences with his ex, and find his way to success.
  • Emjay Anthony ("It's Complicated") is Percy, a son who really misses his dad. He's a good kid, a hard worker and a willing apprentice chef. And does he ever know how to use Twitter!
  • Robert Downey Jr. ("The Avengers") plays Marvin, who used to be married to our hero's ex wife. (Ya got that straight?) He's a little odd, but then again, he has a used food truck for sale, so...
  • John Leguizamo ("Ride Along") is Martin, a guy who loves to work with Carl. He knows how to make Cubanos, and they are the perfect sandwich for a food truck! (They sure LOOK yummy!)
  • Scarlett Johansson ("Don Jon") brings us Molly; she has her hands full as hostess at the restaurant when they have a full house and no chef!
  • Oliver Platt ("Lucky Them") plays Ramsey Michel, the restaurant critic, a fellow who enjoys entertaining his readers with his acerbic wit, with absolutely no thought to the careers he ruins. I LOVE Carl's rant about how hard people work in restaurants.
This is a road movie, with father and son traveling from Miami to Los Angeles in the food truck. Dad has a lot to learn about social networking and the son has to learn how to use the grill.

The R-rating must be for some of the language, but I can assure you there is very little profanity, absolutely no vehicular mayhem, no sexual situations, no gunshots and no blowie uppie stuff...although there IS that little bit with the corn starch... These people are decent law-abiding folks who even get permits when they sell their sandwiches. This is just FUN!
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Here's a little nibble:
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X-Men: Days of Future Past

This indestructible franchise keeps adding new (very appealing) blood, and they keep selling tickets. This particular cast is noteworthy because of the quality of this new blood. Unfortunately, in my opinion, this is the most noteworthy part of this one: the script isn't particularly strong, the Computer Generated blowie uppie stuff is endless and the effort to exceed the previous episode is strained. Furthermore, this PG-13 outing is over two hours long, so watch your liquid intake.

In a nutshell, someone must travel back in time to prevent the origin of the creatures that are destroying mankind (and Mutants) in the opening (endlessly) violent sequence. This one really does start with a BANG!

We see:
  • Patrick Stewart ("X-Men") is Xavier, the inspiration for the Mutants. He is no longer strong enough to endure the rigors of time travel.
  • James McAvoy ("X-Men") is the young Xavier, who isn't the man we expect. This is a broken man who has had his heart shattered.
  • Ian McKellen ("X-Men") is Magneto, whose history with Xavier is key.
  • Michael Fassbender ("X-Men") is the young Magneto; the scriptwriters went over the top with his abilities this time: he picks up a Washington D.C. sports stadium and drops it around the White House.
  • Hugh Jackman ("X-Men") Everyone knows Wolverine! And of course he's the one Mutant tough enough to travel back to the 60s, recognize the music (we did too), and inspire Xavier to get his stuff together and save the world.
  • Nicholas Hoult ("X-Men") is a sort of valet/enabler for a dissolute 1960s Xavier.
  • Peter Dinklage ("Game of Thrones") is Trask, the fellow who needs Raven/Mistique's DNA for his evil schemes.
  • Jennifer Lawrence ("American Hustle") is Raven/Mistique; she doesn't understand who is the real enemy and how the Mutants must eliminate the problem.
I could keep going because the list is endless, but you get the idea. In my opinion, there isn't much more to say; each character has his or her "moment" to shine and we know Good will prevail, so it's just a matter of watching all that nicely crafted blowie uppie stuff until it does. Yawn...
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See what I mean:
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To Be Takei

This entertaining documentary was submitted by the USA for the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival. This review was first published 05-21-14. Directed by Jennifer Kroot, it follows the life and times of George Takei, better known as Sulu in the classic "Star Trek" television and movie series.

These times are roughly divided into:
  • Childhood and the Japanese Relocation during WWII: George was born a happy little ham, ready to entertain guests at the drop of a hat: "Hey! I just learned Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star! Do you want me to sing it for you?"
  • College, acting and realizing he was homosexual: Sometimes camp counselors teach about more than just building fires.
  • Launching a career in Hollywood movies and television: A continuing character on "Hawaiian Eye," countless guest shots on other TV shows, then "Star Trek," television AND the movies.
  • Becoming a gay activist and well-known celebrity: After coming out of the closet, he became a good-natured and humorous spokesman for gay issues.
  • Developing a musical "Allegiance" which he hopes to move to Broadway this year (2014). This is a way for him to apologize to his long-dead father for some words spoken in anger.
For the last 40 years, he has been with Brad Altman, who has finally become his husband when California made gay marriages legal. Both men are charming, witty and completely at ease with themselves.

By the way, he reminds us that his name is pronounced "Tah kay'," like in "Toupee." We enjoyed this one very much.
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Here is the preview:
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Desert Runners

The running of super marathons is the subject of this documentary submitted jointly by the USA, Chile, China, Egypt and Antarctica. The 2014 Seattle International Film Festival obtained this award-winning film (Most Popular International Documentary - Vancouver International Film Festival 2013; Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature - Hamptons International Film Festival 2013) which focuses on four non-professional runners competing in the Four Deserts Grand Slam, considered the world's most punishing race because it is a combination of the most extreme ultra-marathons on earth. The Grand Slam means doing all four races in a single calendar year, carrying your supplies on your back.

Director Jennifer Steinman takes us to:
  • the Atacama in Chile, which hasn't had a drop of rain in 400 years;
  • the Gobi, which is the world's windiest desert, located in northern China and southern Mongolia; 
  • the Sahara, the world's hottest desert, located in north Africa; 
  • and the desert in Antarctica, which qualifies as a desert based on its scant rainfall each year.
The secret to our enjoyment was that we had four people to root for: An American, an Irishman, an Australian and an Englishman. They are all personable, decent people. One is raising funds for a charity he and his children named after his wife, who died a year earlier at age 33. One is an Australian woman who is grabbed and pulled into the bushes while running the Sahara. Only the timely arrival of a motorbike stopped the rape. She later went back to where she was grabbed and ran the final distance so she could claim that race. One entertains us with a snippet of Tom Lehrer's "Masochistic Tango."

Our audience applauded the hardy souls who undertake this punishing effort, even though some of us wondered if they had all their marbles! Plus the postscript updates on our folks was a welcome addition.

Rigor Mortis

This award-winning entry to the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival (FIPRESCI Prize - Taipei Film Festival 2013; and Special Jury Prize - Gérardmer Film Festival 2013) is from Hong Kong and the USA. With "Geung si" (English captions), director Juno Mak brings us a washed-up actor, dejected and unemployed after a career in horror films.

We are in a public housing tenement building where our hero moves in and promptly tries to hang himself in an apartment that appears to be haunted. One neighbor loves her husband so much she follows instructions to a "T" (including the blood of a virgin) so she can bring him back from an accidental death to become a vampire.

This thing started out with blue vomit and went downhill from there. Judging by the rapes, hangings, stabbings, chokings and other creepy methods of killing that were on display, I think the whole apartment building was haunted!

"Creepy and moody" aren't exactly buzz words for Yours Truly, so all I could do was bite the bullet and sit through 103 minutes of this drek. By the time this misery was over, I too, had become washed up and dejected...although a couple of audience members "loved it" ...to my astonishment!

What can I say.... YOYO (You're On Your Own)                                          
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Here is the trailer:
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A Brony Tale

This goofy little documentary is "20% Cooler!" It features Ashley Ball, well-known voice actor best known for her children's cartoon series. Directed by Brent Hodge and submitted by the USA, our screening audience for the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival learned some- thing new.

After visiting a ComiCon convention, a number of "My Little Pony" fans realized that there is a significant adult audience for this cartoon series that promotes Harmony, learning from one's mistakes, helping friends and being less judgmental, so they promptly created a community of fans and called themselves Bronys.

This has grown into its own little world, with international charity works, t-shirts, logos, support groups and a sense of belonging. We saw interviews with a bodybuilder, a guy who competes in tractor pulls, a former National Guardsman (in Iraq by age 20), a biker, a psychologist, an artist and many, many more. This community is overwhelmingly heterosexual, overwhelmingly male with ages that range from 9 to 61, but are mostly in their early 20s.

This is a happy group that doesn't apologize for appreciating a series that is positive and uplifting. I sorta feel the same way.
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Here is the trailer:
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10,000 KM

The tagline for this one is: Is long distance the wrong distance? This award-winning entry from Spain/USA (Special Jury Recognition for Best Acting Duo: SXSW; Best Film, Actor, Actress and New Screenwriter: Malaga Spanish Film Festival) gives us video chats (Skype), texts, e-mails, Facebook status updates and phone calls between Los Angeles and Barcelona.

Director Carlos Marques-Marcet brings us:
  • Natalia Tena as Alex, a professional photographer who has put her career on hold to stay in Barcelona with her lover of seven years. She is flattered and excited to be offered a grant to exhibit her work in Los Angeles. She expects to be away for a year.
  • David Verdaguer is Sergi, studying for his board exams so he can become tenured. He is funny, considerate and extremely creative but he doesn't want to leave Spain.
I am convinced that these two are stage-trained actors because I have rarely seen (at least in modern filmmaking) actors capable of carrying a scene from beginning to end with few or no cuts, no editing and no tricks. These are highly capable performers! No wonder they won awards. The characters' use of social media is unusual, to put it mildly. Expect many sexual situations and forthright language (these are adults, after all), but be prepared to appreciate those long uncut scenes.

Naturally we would like to see our lovers be extraordinary and perfect, however that is NOT real life... Sigh...

Standing Aside, Watching

Greece presents "Na kathesai kai na koitas" (English captions) for the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival. When the train pulls into a small industrial town, a gentleman sitting there is surprised to see Antigone arrive. He says as a rule the only people who get off are Albanians and Pakistanis.

Director Yorgon Servetas brings us:
  • Marina Symeou is Antigone, a brusk, sometimes rude native returning home. She quickly encounters her uncle, seduces a young man, meets a former lover and sees a best friend from her youth.
  • Marianthi Pantelopoulou is Eleni, that sweet best friend. It is immediately obvious that she is being abused by her married lover but she can't see a way out of her dilemma.
  • Nikos Yorgakis is Nodas, a married, promiscuous brute who enjoys raping and beating women.
  • Yorgos Kafetzopoulo is Nikos, swept off his feet by that worldly woman but who owes allegiance to Nodas for whom he works in his wrecking yard.
  • Kostis Siradakis is Dimitris, that former lover. I was never so happy in my life when I saw his gun!
This story was involving, with extremely crude language. The lead character isn't a warm or wise woman, so I mostly had to root for Eleni and Nikos.



The 2014 Seattle International Film Festival hosted Bulgaria and Romania with their award-winning dramedy (Breaking Waves Award - Titanic Film Festival 2014). To me, it was a glacially paced endurance test. Even though the casting is amazing, the acting is brilliant and the photography wonderful, in my opinion director Maya Vitkova should have cut this 155-minute ordeal in half!

For example, when the actress drinks some milk, she picks up the glass and slowly drinks the entire glass of milk, then she sets down the empty glass and picks up her husband's and drinks the remainder of milk from his glass, as well...in a single SEVEN-MINUTE take. If someone starts down a hall, we have to see him or her walk the entire distance, open the door and walk through. Nothing is alluded to, we have to watch each action in its entirety. Yawn.

There is very little dialogue. The long silences are punctuated by an actor exiting the room, or the actress taking off her clothes...again... We are treated to scenes with breast milk, menstrual fluid, glasses of milk, a pelvic exam, a milky rain, and a woman giving herself a douche. (I think those are the artistic parts.)

We see:
  • Urmena Chichikova as Boryana, the young Bulgarian woman determined never to get pregnant. When it happens, she seems to suffer from prenatal and post-natal depression that NEVER GOES AWAY. Her baby is born at the same time as a little crippled boy, but hers is born with no umbilical cord, so it becomes Communist Bulgaria's "Socialist Baby of the Decade." She won't even nurse it.
  • Dimo Dimov is Ivan, the upbeat husband and father-to-be. He takes over all of the parenting when it becomes obvious that his wife has absolutely NO maternal instinct.
  • Daria Vitkova is Viktoria as a young schoolgirl, is spoiled and coddled by the Bulgarian President. They speak by phone regularly and he sends a chauffeured car to take her to and from school. She is an over-indulged brat, so with the political collapse in 1989 and the president jailed, she has a rude awakening.
  • Kalina Vitkova is Viktoria as a young woman, almost as non- communicative as her mother. At least Grandma is still alive, so there is a bit of warmth in her life...for awhile...
I found this irksome and trying. It could have been so incredibly worthwhile if only it had been a little less artistic. Aarghhh!

Seeds of Time

This documentary submitted by the USA to the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival explores the challenges and rationale for trying to avert a "disaster in the making" by preserving crop diversity. For example, we depend on only one strain of corn in this country, so an epidemic for that variety would be catastrophic. This "Global Seed Vault" project is funded by the Gates Foundation and other far-sighted institutions. It is also known as the "Doomsday Vault," or "Noah's Ark."

Our host, Cary Fowler, has established an astonishing complex in Norway which tunnels into a frozen mountain and provides an impenetrable storage facility for hundreds of thousands of varieties. Much of his mission is to preserve current seed crops and to have seeds for vegetation that has otherwise become extinct, with an eye toward climate change which may require some of the older strains to be used again. 93% of our domesticated varieties of corn, wheat, potatoes, carrots, peas, tomatoes. etc., have become extinct since 1903.

There are scores of smaller organizations throughout the world, but they are at the mercy of local politics and weather. A good illustration of how dedicated these folks are, was to see a spokeswoman trying to explain through her tears how her project in the Philippines was wiped out by a storm. One of the pioneers of seed preservation lived in Russia. He and his staff actually starved to death during the 900-day Siege of Leningrad rather than eat the seeds.

The potato project in Peru was another good example of how a particular type of food is not only nourishment, but an integral part of a culture, e.g., courtship, marriage, childbirth, etc. When the potato crop began to fail, their concern became so great that neighboring tribes set aside their rivalries and worked together to plant and harvest new strains of potatoes from the Global Seed Vault.

This is just a sample of the interesting bits you will see and hear in this important documentary. BTW, this movie's title is from Shakespeare's Macbeth, "If you can look into the seeds of time and tell which will grow and which will not..."

Dangerous Acts Starring The Unstable Elements of Belarus

This joint venture submitted by the UK, the USA and Belarus (English captions) features the Belarus Free Theatre as they perform uncensored defiant skits which criticize tyranny and KGB raids. It's prohibited in Minsk to sell tickets to their theatre ("illegal economic activity") so it's free. The theatre is often raided but they persist. They communicate with their children and collaborate with distant theatre members via Skype.

Director Madeleine Sackler has taken many risks which record the arrests and detainments of actors and politicians, plus we see their moves to New York City and London for temporary safety nets.

To me, it was interesting how they could stage effective theater in another country that isn't quite mime, yet doesn't depend on language to convey a message. Over 20,000 citizens lost their homes and became refugees during the period immediately after the latest (questionable) presidential election.

Local Minsk joke: "Mr. President, I've got some good news and some bad news, which do you want to hear first?"
Mr. President: "Tell me the good news."
Joke: "You will be our president again."
Mr. President: "And the bad news?"
Joke: "No one voted for you."

This acting company got glowing reviews plus an OBIE in NYC and later made a highly regarded appearance at the theatre festival in Edinburgh; on the other hand, our 2014 Seattle International Film Festival audience was interested, but not enraptured.


The Fault in Our Stars

Who says cancer support groups can't be uplifting? On the first official "open" day of the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival, I managed to catch a film that wasn't part of the press screenings I have attended for the past three weeks. And was it worth it! The Egyptian Theatre was filled to the rafters with fans of the wildly popular Young Adult novel by John Green; it was fun to watch the audience telegraph each phase of this realistic look at young people dealing with malignancies. The young gal next to me pulled out some tissue in anticipation of one sad scene and wriggled with glee when something funny was coming up.

This film is loaded with humor, but it also has powerful performances by stellar actors. The author was on set during the filming, so he was downstairs while the mother and daughter were doing an extremely emotional scene in an upstairs bedroom. Green became so agitated when he heard the girl's voice, they had to restrain him from barging in on the scene to comfort her.

We admire:
  • Shailene Woodley ("Divergent") is Hazel, our young heroine, suffering from terminal cancer, who schleps her oxygen equipment everywhere she goes...including Anne Frank's attic in Amsterdam!
  • Ansel Elgort ("Divergent" - he was her brother in that one) Gus refuses to be pulled into Hazel's negative space, but he does it with such wit and charm, she can't help but respond.
  • Laura Dern ("Enlightened") is our heroine's happily married mother, insightful, supportive and consistently loving.
  • Sam Trammell ("True Blood") is her father, who isn't sure his girl has enough strength for a friendship like this.
  • Nat Wolff ("Stuck in Love") is their best friend Isaac who has lost one eye to cancer and now is confronted with the possibility of losing the other...plus a girlfriend. He shows us the therapeutic value of venting one's rage. We LOVED the scene with the eggs!
  • Willem Dafoe ("The Grand Budapest Hotel") is Peter Van Houten, a much-admired author they want to meet.
  • Lotte Verbeek ("Outlander"!) is his lovely personal assistant.
Kudos to Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber for adapting this poignant novel for its legions of youthful fans. There is no profanity, nudity, gunfire, vehicular mayhem or blowie uppie stuff. This audience left the theater very, very happy.
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Here is a trailer:
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Venus in Fur

"La Vénus à la fourrure" (English captions) is submitted by France for the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival. This highly acclaimed film: Lumiere Award 2014 (Best Screenplay), Cesar Award 2013 (Best Director), is a two-person tour de force but it finally wore me down.

Directed by Roman Polanski, this started out looking like a screwball comedy with extremely witty dialogue and remarkably well-translated idiomatic captions. We have a playwright who has been holding auditions for his adaption of Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch's 19th century book about pleasure and pain (does "masochism" ring a bell?); he hasn't been able to find a satisfactory female lead. A scattered actress arrives very late and after many false starts, manages to finagle an audition.

We see:
  • Emmanuelle Seigner ("La Vie en Rose") is Vanda, the goofy actress who seamlessly slips between her character in the play within the movie and her character in the movie. In my opinion, she is brilliant (but she can't dance worth a darn).
  • Mathieu Amalric ("The Diving Bell and the Butterfly") plays Thomas, the befuddled author and bedazzled foil for this clever but exasperating woman; e.g., she keeps revisiting the difference between "ambivalent and ambiguous."
By the time Vanda has Thomas in lipstick and high heels, I finally had lost patience, along with a number of other audience members who had done the "second-act sneak," quietly slipping out in the cover of darkness.

I stayed because I thought I should let you know....
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Here is a preview:
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Fight Church

This action-packed USA documentary was submitted to the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival. Coyly co-directed by Academy Award Winning Director Daniel Junge ("Saving Face") and Bryan Storkel ("Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians"), we are supposed to believe that they don't have an axe to grind, but to me, their bias is readily evident.

Tattooed tough guys straight from the Mixed Martial Arts cage matches were portrayed as staunch born-again, main-stream Christians. We listen to the ways in which several churches' fight clubs rationalize their faith and their viewpoints and support the idea of God-fearing men beating the holy crap out of each other.

We see preachers, MMA fighters, priests, legislators and congregations debate the issue. Some are fiercely in favor of church-sponsored MMA bouts, some are equally opposed. The spouses try to show an upbeat supportive attitude, but we have to watch children tearfully lose bloody battles for Jesus' sake and one preacher have his shoulder dislocated by another. Aarghhh! One fellow changed his mind during the course of the filming.

This might appeal to faith-based audiences or to people who love MMA bouts, but I was repelled from the very beginning, so there is MY bias! The preachers seemed sincere enough but their rationale was pretty strained. At this point, professional MMA cage fighting is legal in 49 states; New York is the hold out. I'm just glad attendance isn't mandatory!

Night Moves

Writer/Director Kelly Reichardt ("Wendy and Lucy") brings us yet another downbeat cautionary tale, this time about environmental activism in the Pacific Northwest as we follow a trio of high-minded (e.g., radical) tree huggers who are opposed to affluence. They are outraged that there are 19 golf courses in Bend, Oregon, so they plan to blow up a hydroelectric dam.

Our 2014 Seattle International Film Festival screening audience watched:
  • Peter Sarsgaard ("Blue Jasmine") a former Marine and ex-con, who brings his explosives expertise into play. He doesn't trust the girl...
  • Jesse Eisenberg ("The Social Network") is a dour sourpuss who lives on a collective farm outside Ashland, Oregon. At first he is just morose, then he is paranoid morose, then sad morose, then lonely morose. I think he just ends up morose again...
  • Dakota Fanning ("The Twilight Saga") is their shill who buys the boat and then the ammonium nitrate for the explosives. She lives at a health spa where people casually stroll around naked and soak in medicinal waters. She is derailed by an unexpected tragedy.
This moody thriller has collected awards (Grand Prize - Deauville Film Festival 2013; Best Cinematographer - Valladolid International Film Festival 2013) but I found it tedious. Although it WAS fun to see Ashland, Oregon, which I visit each year for the Shakespeare Festival, so I recognized the bean-sprout sensibility, the clothing and the Saturday market.

BTW: Night Moves is the name of the boat they use to plant the explosives.
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Here is a preview:
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Million Dollar Arm

This one's a winner; AND it's based on true life! Here a less-than-successful sports agent realizes there is a vast talent pool for new Major League Baseball players in India...playing cricket. He creates a reality television show to find suitable players to bring back for the All-American Sport.

Obviously, we are talking major culture shock. Both for him when he goes to India on his scouting trip and then when his poor winners come back with him to the unnerving abundance of the United States. It's both funny and sad. So we learn that culture shock cuts both ways! And when someone is homesick, it doesn't matter where they are or how old.

We watch:
  • Jon Hamm ("Friends With Kids" and a LOT of television) is JB, jumping into the culture gap with both feet, but forgetting that his young charges are just that...YOUNG.
  • Pitobash ("3 Idiots" a Bollywood comedy which I enjoyed, by the way) is Amit, the live-wire interpreter, who has a "flexible" approach to English.
  • Suraj Sharma ("Life of Pi") is Rinku who hates cricket and has never played it in his life. He is a javelin thrower; you've gotta see his "Flamingo" stance.
  • Madhur Mittal ("Slumdog Millionaire") is Dinesh, who just wants to buy a new truck for his injured father back in India.
  • Alan Arkin ("Argo" he was robbed of a Best Supporting Actor Oscar) Ray is skeptical, to put it mildly. And very, very bored.
  • Aasif Mandvi ("Premium Rush") is Aash, the American fellow who has taken a big risk to go into business with JB, so success is vitally important to him....and his twins!
  • Lake Bell ("In a World...") is Brenda, the wise young doctor who rents the bungalow on JB's property. Both washing machines break down so she dates the Maytag man for awhile.
This is a big, comfortable, satisfying film with no gunshots, no vehicular mayhem, no sweaty bodies, no profanity and no blowie uppie stuff, it's just pure PG-rated entertainment followed by photos and updates on all the real-life folks you just watched. Lovely touch!
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Even the trailer is fun:
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Vengeance may be sweet, unless you live in Ethiopia and are a 14-year- old girl who doesn't see kidnapping, beating, and rape as acceptable courtship rituals; instead, in desperation, our plucky heroine shoots (and kills) her attacker...with his own gun. Based on an extraordinary true story, the 2014 Seattle International Film festival is honored to screen this award-winning drama from Ethiopia (Audience Awards at both Sundance and Berlin film festivals).

Directed by Zeresenay Mehari, we watch Hirut (played by Tizita Hagere) frantically try to outrun the horsemen who surround and capture her. Her subsequent beating and rape are considered tradition by the men in the village, after all, that is how her older sister became a wife (to a drunk) and mother of four. After her arrest the men in the village demand her death, therein lies our story, which is at the heart of the legal system in Ethiopia.

The lawyer who comes to her rescue is Meaza Ashenafi, played by Meron Getnet. This bright young woman is determined to drag Addis Abaya (that's how it's spelled in the captions) into the 21st century, with justice for all, including the women! The lawyer for the plaintiff (the dead man's father) claims Herut can't be 14 because "her breasts are too big and christening records are notoriously inaccurate."

It's interesting to watch a girl from a village try to cope with modern living, such as a telephone, television or a soft bed (she finally sleeps on the floor). Her biggest challenge however, is homesickness for her mother and little sister. In real life, the lawyer risked everything on this court case and they really DID make changes for the better. Of course, it still isn't a perfect world, but with people like these folks still trying, there is hope! We were inspired.

Belle & Sebastian

"Belle et Sébastien" (English captions) was submitted by France for the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival. We had young invitees from six local schools in attendance and that always enhances my experience. How perfectly splendid that their first taste of the festival should be this winning story about a boy and his dog! They could relate to his point of view, the story is captivating, there is plenty of humor, we saw white-knuckle drama, and everyone had plenty of folks to root for...always a plus!

Nicolas Vanier from Senegal directed this story about an orphan boy raised in the Pyrenees, the impossibly beautiful mountain range with France to the north and Spain to the south. The cinematography by Eric Guichard is breathtaking! We loved the marmots, rabbits, boar, elk, wolves and chamois, particularly the baby chamois that is stranded after its mother is shot in those thrilling opening scenes.

Here is the cast:
  • Tchéky Karyo plays César, a grouchy old mountain man who drinks too much. He wants to shoot la bête that has been killing sheep. He's sure the beast is a feral dog who escaped its brutal master in a neighboring village.
  • Félix Bossuet is Sébastien, an adventurous six-year-old boy; our little hero has been told that his absent mother has gone to America, "just over those mountains." He befriends that stray dog and does not think she kills sheep. BTW, she is a Great Pyrenees and that breed is well known for its fearless protection of its flocks.
  • Dimitri Storoge is Docteur Guillaume, the heroic Resistance fighter who guides Jewish refugees on their way to the Swiss border. (He can also fix a dog that has been shot!)
  • Andreas Pietschmann brings us Lieutenant Peter, a handsome German officer we come to fear...but he really admires that lovely young woman in the bakery where he demands a weekly supply of bread for his troops.
  • Margaux Châtelier makes an irresistible Angélina, who tells the German officer, "Soldiers fight wars, they don't plunder bakeries!" She also knows her way around those mountains.
This inspiring story is a charming homage to the live-action films of Disney, but I could see that the pulse-pounding World War II subplot thrilled those kids in the audience today. Me too!!!


Half of a Yellow Sun

The 2014 Seattle International Film Festival hosted the acclaimed actor/director Chiwetel Ejiofor ("12 Years a Slave") on Monday, May 29th @ the Egyptian Theatre. More details were in SIFF Programs.

Okay, let's talk about this drama based on the novel of the same name written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and directed by BiYi Bandele. It brings us 1960s Nigeria on her shaky path to freedom and democracy. We see news clips from the time with a very young Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip deplaning at the airport and see clips of speeches made by Nigeria's new leaders.

We see:
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor ("Amistad") as Odenigbo, a college post-graduate who has returned to his homeland to help his country join the world as a new democracy.
  • Thandie Newton ("Rogue") is Olanna, a highly educated young woman deeply in love with Odenigbo; his mother is NOT in favor of this union! Much of the early tension is from Village -vs- Cosmopolitan cultures. Olanna is described as an "educated witch."
  • Anika Noni Rose ("The Good Wife") is her sister Kainene, another sophisticated, highly educated Nigerian back to help her country make its transition. 
  • John Boyega ("Star Wars: Episode VII"!!) Ugwu is the absolute heart of this film, a village boy who lies when he says he can cook rice (he really needs the job!). He becomes the cook, the nanny, the houseboy and the courageous heart of Olanna and Odenigbo's family.
It is one thing to read about the violence taking place in locations like this; it is another thing entirely to have to WATCH it! I found the horrific slaughters to be shocking and upsetting and there were times when I despaired of our folks making it through with their lives. The massacre at the airport was particularly distressing.

I had a lot of trouble making out the details of the political maneuvers because I really needed closed captions. I don't know if others had the same trouble with this excellent film.
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Here is a link to a preview:
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The Trip to Italy

Did you see "The Trip" from 2010? If so, this is the sequel; if not, this is a gab fest between two long-time friends, Steve Coogan ("Philomena")  and Rob Brydon (Lots of TV), on a road trip from Naples to Capri. We watch them as they eat six meals in six different locations and gab all the way. The scenery is astounding, the food looks scrumptious and the gab is a movie lover's Nirvana.

They talk about (and do impressions of):
  • Diane Keaton and Woody Allen
  • Robert De Niro and Marlon Brando
  • Hugh Grant from the movie Notting Hill
  • Gore Vidal and Al Pacino
  • Anthony Hopkins and Humphrey Bogart
  • All the Batmans plus Michael Caine
They have discussions about:
  • Adolescent girls
  • Alanis Morissette and Avril Lavigne
  • Shelley, Lord Byron and Keats
  • The movie Roman Holiday
  • Pompeii and those plaster casts of people
  • Kumquats
  • The absurdity of turning over the Mini Cooper keys to a young man because he had a polo shirt with a hotel logo on it. No ID.
  • Running on a beach with De Niro.
I can't think of a time I have heard our 2014 Seattle International Film Festival screening audience laugh as often as I did in this one. I will be forced to watch for the DVD so I can catch up on all the funny stuff I missed!

A Time in Quchi

"Shu jai zuo ye" (English captions) is a gentle, unpredictable little film from Taiwan that won the Netpac Award at the 2013 Hawaii International Film Festival. Now we see it here at the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival and we find it a pleasant way to spend 109 minutes.

Director Chang Tso-Chi is able to draw natural performances from his school-age actors and the few adults in the cast. Our unsmiling young hero Bao is sent to his grandfather's rural home outside of Taipai for the summer, but is dismayed to learn that he will have to attend school while he is there. His parents are both extremely busy with their jobs AND with their pending divorce. To make matters worse, Grandpa doesn't allow TV during meals and makes him go to bed early.

A little gang of boys threatens to make life miserable, but the teaching staff is exemplary and they manage to ease him into the class with very little trouble. His pesky little sister Seaweed shows up and she is a nuisance! Their relationship is soooo real!

Bao is supposed to write a summary of his 21 Days of Summer for his class and he starts out with a pack of outrageous lies. He is uncommuni- cative with his grandfather, a bit rebellious with his parents and an impatient big brother to Seaweed, but as the days go by, he makes a friend on the basketball court, sees a typhoon, and watches his grand- father paint stones to commemorate his loved ones. (Bao's is painted blue because Grandpa sees him as an Avatar!)

Expect the unexpected, okay?



To me, movie-going is funded with discretionary money. That means I don't HAVE to spend it; consequently I would NEVER spend my money on something I find disgusting, insulting or ludicrous. The 40th Anniversary 2014 Seattle International Film Festival hosts the World Premiere of this chiller from the USA. The catalog describes this as "phantasmagoric" in the "stylistic mix of giallo and Hammer horror..." whatever THAT means. Let's see if this helps.

Depending on your point of view, you will either find the following irresistible or something you can do without. Personally, I can do without:
  • A lame script
  • Cheesy special effects
  • Poor sound
  • Sloppy editing
  • Goofy makeup (false eyelashes worn to bed)
  • Green (and bloody) teeth
  • Endless flickering and pulsating images
  • Bad pacing
  • Terrible acting (I think the actresses got the giggles)
  • A quasi-Ku Klux Klan group clad in black hoods and robes
  • Endless crucifixes and claims to be Jesus
I had to smile at the furtive "Second Act Sneak" as various audience members quietly stole away long before the final frame.

I'm surprised to see none of the following screenings are for the Midnight Horror Film Fans!

Dior and I

Personally, I hold high fashion is pretty low esteem. This 2014 Seattle International Film Festival documentary from France is directed by Frédéric Tcheng. You may have forgotten when Raf Simons from Belgium was hired to replace disgraced John Galliano at Dior. That in itself was exciting to the fashionistas, but the fact that he only had eight weeks to create his first collection (a process that normally takes up to five months), shows us how much pressure was on.

This is more about the process of creating a show than it is about creating high fashion, e.g., check out those flower-covered walls! I found myself admiring the women behind the scenes who make it happen. At one point they have to use spray paint to make a jacket black so our designer can see how it would look made from black fabric. During the hectic last days before the show, these amazing women get home at 2:00 AM, only to get up at 5:00 AM and go right back to work.

Evidently Raf Simons is notoriously camera shy. The Paris Match wanted a photo shoot with him and six models that would be similar to the one they shot with Galliano which became an issue cover. When Simons asked if this new one would be a cover photo, the photographer said they never promise because "someone might die and that always becomes the cover." Simons laughingly offered to jump out a window.

Of course it's always fun to look for famous faces during the fashion show itself, but I was so distracted by the models, who looked like a line-up of gawky giraffes, complete with hideous makeup and the goofy clothes they had to wear, that I didn't get much enjoyment from people-watching. But then again, you already know how I feel about high fashion...


Poland submitted this award-winning drama (16 wins) to the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival about a young nun who, in 1960s Poland, suddenly suspends her decision to take her vows, because she has just uncovered a long-hidden family secret that dates back to WWII. The Mother Superior wisely advises her to visit her aunt in a nearby village before she takes her final vows.

We watch:
  • Agata Trzebuchowska is Anna, the uninitiated young woman raised in a Catholic orphanage who has never been to the beach, never kissed a boy, and can't count her vows as a sacrifice if she doesn't know what she'll be missing.
  • Agata Kulesza is Wanda, our novitiate's Communist aunt, who breaks the news to her that she wasn't born a Catholic. Red Wanda is blunt and assertive in everything she does; she asks Anna, "What if you find out there is no God?"
  • Dawid Ogrodnik plays Lis, a saxophone-playing hitchhiker who adores John Coltrane's "Naima." His family also suffered during the Holocaust because some of them were Gypsies. He's trying to avoid Army duty, so he observes that both of them are afraid to take vows. BTW do NOT miss him in "Life Feels Good" at this same festival!
We explore Poland's collective guilt over the fate of three million Polish Jews who disappeared during the holocaust (their property was quietly confiscated by local families), while we watch a devout young woman question (and then answer) her concerns about becoming a Catholic nun.

This effective PG-13 film is shot in black and white, so the expert use of light and shadow is obvious from the first frame. This is particularly effective in the nunnery. Our screening audience agreed that even though the pace was very, very slow, the story was gripping and accessible.
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Here is a preview:
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The 2014 Seattle International Film Festival received this dark, dark "comedy" which is a joint venture from the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark (English captions). We follow a twisted tale as a nasty vagrant named Borgman finds shelter in an affluent suburban home.

Director Alex van Warmerdam has seen his film awarded numerous prizes and nominated for more, including the 2013 Oscar for Foreign Language Film, so our expectations were high. Sure enough, the acting is a marvel, there are no weak performances.

We see:
  • Jan Bijvoet as our eponymous Borgman, mysterious and lethal.
  • Hadewych Minis is a hapless suburban housewife, bored and muddled.
  • Jeroen Perceval is her husband, whose job is in jeopardy and he can't help but feel jealous of Borgman.
  • Sara Hjort Ditlevsen is their Danish au pair. Her responsibility is those three children, but she has a boyfriend...and there's that gardener...
  • Elve Lijbaart is the youngest of the three children. If you aren't too young, you may remember "The Bad Seed" that starred Patty McCormack... That's all I'm gonna say.
Be warned, this is billed as "an exploration of evil" ...among other things... Our dissatisfied screening audience laughed as we exited the theater because we were left hanging....

YOYO! (You're On Your Own)
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Here is a preview:
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Garden Lovers

"Eedenistä pohjoiseen" is a charming but pointless documentary about five devoted couples who love to garden; it was submitted by Finland (English captions) for our 2014 Seattle International Film Festival.

Director Virpi Suutari has already collected the Main Prize (for films over 30 minutes) at the Tampere International Short Film Festival (this film runs a tidy 74 minutes), so the film comes highly recommended, even though many of us in the screening audience were less than charmed.

We saw five couples:
  • One couple has been married for over 65 years and they want to die on her hundredth birthday...in each other's arms.
  • A pair of spry nudists race around their lovely garden. He's a CSI investigator and I'm not sure what she does.
  • A gay couple has a nice working relationship, one does the gardening and housework...in the nude (watch him climb over a barbed-wire fence), while the other works for an multi-national corporation...in a suit. His tween-age daughter visits on weekends and holidays.
  • One widower ran an ad for a companion and received over 100 replies. He chose #98. They get along like gangbusters and she loves to garden. She is out so late a fox keeps her company.
  • One elderly couple has a sad story: She suffers from chronic leukemia, but it has no effect on their devotion.
This documentary lacked a narrative, it was scattered and unfocused. Of course there are many lovely shots of flowers, butterflies (on pins!), waving grasses and ponds, plus a cute little bust of Elvis in one garden, but many of us got a nice snooze during this one...Yawn...

Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang

"Zipi y Zape y el club de la canica" is a 2014 Seattle International Film Festival entry from Spain (English captions). These rascally twins have a loyal following in Europe and I'm delighted we finally get a look at them. The thing that made it even better today was a surprise: Six local high schools sent Spanish classes to the screening. As we all know, when there are others in the audience, we tend to see the film through their eyes, and this film is absolutely PERFECT for teenagers! It has just enough rebellion, flirting, pranks, authoritarian villains and smart, decent kids to keep everyone happy and interested.

Exiled to a summer camp called "Hope" run by a one-eyed fellow named Falconetti, this is a strict re-education center for rascally teenagers, which dashes any hope for fun our two heroes might have had...until they form a Children's Resistance called the Marble Gang.

We see:
  • Javier Gutiérrez is Falconetti, he enforces a stern set of rules which forbid any fun; he has a heavy hand, an eyepatch and all things dreary.
  • Raúl Rivas is Zipi, he's the smart one, and he gets a crush on Matilde.
  • Daniel Cerezo is Zape, he's the devilish one, and Matilde gets a crush on HIM!
  • Claudia Vega is Matilde, Falconetti's niece. She doesn't like her uncle very much, but she really doesn't want to go home, either ...but she does like bad boys....
  • Fran Garcia is Filo, the standard pudgy guy who has trouble keeping up with the other four as they flee through those cobwebby tunnels. (Did I mention that this film has very broad stereotypes? They fit like a pair of comfortable old shoes.)
  • Marcos Ruiz is Micro, the nerd. No kids' movie would be complete without a skinny boy in thick glasses, wearing braces on his teeth and with a history of being bullied.
These kids are trying to solve the riddle of a map which promises the finder diamonds. They are all smart so this is a glorified scavenger hunt for teenagers, with greedy adults, a ferocious dog, trap doors and a high-wire hazard, all there to thwart them. Lotsa fun all around!


Are you ready for another R-rated comedy from Seth Rogen ("Knocked Up" and "Superbad")? If so, you know exactly what to expect, particularly when it's directed by Nicholas Stoller ("Get Him to the Greek"). Yup, raunchy, puerile and loaded with endless drug use, excessive drinking, outrageous nudity and all kinds of sex.

Peeking between our fingers, we see:
  • Seth Rogen ("The Guilt Trip") who finds himself, along with his wife and baby girl, living next door to a party-loving fraternity. They think they can make friends and then just casually ask them to "please keep it down..."
  • Rose Byrne ("Bridesmaids") is a sleep- (and sex-) deprived wife and mother, who just wants a less-noisy neighbor. She is a former potty-mouthed party girl who actually misses having a good time, but...
  • Elise and Zoey Vargas are the little twins who play that winning baby girl.
  • Zac Efron ("That Awkward Moment") parties all night and swings a mean dildo.
  • Dave Franco ("Warm Bodies") loves his fraternity but deep down, he knows the party is almost over and it's probably time to grow up.
After the couple finally calls the police, and revenge kicks in, things get pretty wild. Expect standard debauchery, flashes of breasts, extended drugging/drinking scenes and gross behavior... on BOTH sides of the fence! The good news? No gunshots, vehicular mayhem or blowie uppie stuff...sigh...

Full disclosure, I DID laugh a couple of times. But don't tell anyone.
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If you're still curious:
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Obvious Child

In this USA entry to the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival, we see a Brooklyn comedienne get dumped, lose her job and become pregnant just in time for Valentine's Day. Then our story begins.

Written and directed by Gillian Robespierre, this bittersweet R-rated comedy reminded me how out of step I am. I kept asking myself, "Why does contemporary comedy have to be so anatomical?!" I found that aspect so off-putting it was hard for me to sincerely like our heroine.

Here is the cast:
  • Jenny Slate ("Parks and Recreation") is Donna, sifting through the detritus of her current life, trying to discover the next step. (And she hasn't told her mother anything yet.)
  • Jake Lacy ("The Office") is Max, a Gentile she meets on the rebound. They have waaaay too much fun together!
  • Gaby Hoffmann ("Veronica Mars") is Nellie, Donna's wingman: experienced, wise, and always on HER side!
  • Richard Kind (Lots of TV) is Jacob, Donna's dad, successful and supportive.
  • Polly Draper (Lots of TV) is Nancy, Donna's mother, a genius college professor and very understanding.
  • Gabe Liedman (Lots of TV) is Joey, Donna's employer at the comedy club. He is VERY flexible.
Truth-telling can be a real challenge, particularly when you do stand-up "comedy" about your breakup and your pending abortion.

In my opinion, Donna suffers from self-inflicted wounds, so I probably didn't root for her as much as I should. I found this to be unpredictable in a mildly predictable sort of way... Clear enough for you?

This is scheduled to open in theaters on June 6, 2014
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The Case Against 8

This documentary from the USA has already won awards at Sundance and SXSW, so we are happy to see it at the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival. This is a behind-the-scenes look at the case to overturn California's ban on same-sex marriage (Proposition 8).

The American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) assembled an unlikely Dream Team:
  • David Boies and Ted Olson, who had previously opposed each other before the Supreme Court in the Gore vs Bush case. During the course of that intense time, they became friends. Obviously, Conservatives were NOT happy about this new pairing.
  • Kristen Perry and Sandra Stier, carefully vetted to represent mainstream couples: comfortable, employed, raising a family of four. They married as soon as it became legal in California, but their marriage was rescinded.
  • Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarillo had refused a "domestic partnership" because they would be settling for a placebo which doesn't provide full marriage rights, e.g., Social Security and pensions.
There is a LOT of humor in this documentary. One activist said, "If Ted Olson, Dick Chaney and the Cato Institute all endorse gay marriage, maybe I'm on the wrong side!"

Directors Ben Cotner and Ryan White stayed with this project for the five years it took to follow the case, film it, and edit it down to documentary length. Despite the complexity of the case, it is presented in easily assimilated bits. We found it satisfying and entertaining.
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Here is a preview:
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The Signal

This enigmatic Sci-Fi was submitted by the US to the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival. We follow a trio of college students into the desert after they are challenged by mysterious hacker.

This first threatened to be 97 minutes of "Don't Go In The Basement!" but it soon settled into a little more involving head-scratcher.

The cast:
  • Brendon Thwaites ("Maleficent") is Nik, who starts out using crutches. Flashbacks show us how that happened. He is uncommonly smart and as a grad student from MIT, he accepts the challenge.
  • Olivia Cooke ("Bates Motel") is Haley, who mostly seems to be set decoration. Nik loves her...
  • Beau Knapp ("Super 8") is Jonah, Nik's friend, roommate and probably classmate. He too, is uncommonly smart.
  • Laurence Fishburne ("Man of Steel") is Dr. Wallace Damon, an imperturbable fellow bundled in a hazmat suit, because our hero is ascertained to be "EBE" or "Extraterrestrial Biological Entity." 
This turns into a white-knuckle ride and I was surprised how engaged I had become. I think it helps that the lead guy is such a handsome devil!
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Here is a sample:
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I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story

Submitted by the US to the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival, this documentary celebrates the life and contributions of Caroll Spinney, who has performed "Big Bird" and "Oscar the Grouch" on Sesame Street for over 40 years.

We see his origins (his family believed in home movies!) and hear his tales of early television. For example, when they tried a wireless microphone, long before they were in common use, they didn't realize they had to reserve a band width. Imagine their surprise when, during the show, a CB radio cut in: "Hey good buddy. That purty little wife of yers is waitin' on you at Exit 18!"

We hear of his first marriage, which gave him three much-loved children (who are interviewed for this documentary), then after his divorce, his three futile attempts to meet the girl of his dreams. The story is very funny and is related by HER! On the other hand, we are stunned to see that he was scheduled to fly in the ill-fated space shuttle Challenger in 1986.

We see the incredible complexity of working in that costume. Just being a Muppet is highly demanding, but to be Big Bird is even more so. I won't try to describe it; you just have to see it.

Working with the brilliant Jim Henson was memorable, but the part that put a lump in my throat was when Big Bird sang "It's Not Easy Being Green" in that giant cathedral for Henson's funeral.... Have a tissue handy.
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See what I mean:
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40 Days of Silence

Is that all it was? 40 days? It seemed like waaaaaay more.... The pace is positively glacial!

"Chilla" is a strange entry (North American premiere) from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Netherlands, Germany and France (English captions).

We were spinning in circles as we wondered:
  • Was this a penance? If so for what?
  • Why was she expected to get sick?
  • Was this a religious rite?
  • Which flashback was important?
  • Who were we seeing this time?
  • And some wondered, "What corpse?"
On the other hand, the cinematography was spectacular. I can't find any person's name to credit, so all I can do is rave about:
  • The breathtaking landscapes: monochromatic, serene, and beautifully composed.
  • The flesh tones set in the interiors made me think of the Rembrandt gallery at the Louvre, a soft glow against a dark, muted background.
  • The brilliant use of light and shadow.
Of course it's always interesting to see a different culture and realize that some things never change: Aunt Khamida is a worldly gal, cell phone in hand, strolling around outside the house with her hair uncovered! Shame!



The Czech Republic, along with Luxembourg, Slovakia and Finland, submitted this award-winning entry to the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival (English captions). In it, we follow a retired clown Oskar who returns to his hometown (Prague) for a possible reunion with the two other fellows who formed his trio, "back in the day."

Our cast:
  • Didler Flamand plays Oskar, who left because he felt artistically stifled by the Communist regime. Plus there was that little issue of a girlfriend...
  • Oldrich Kaiser is Max, the heart and soul of this film. See what he does with a comb in the cancer ward!
  • Jiri Lábus plays Viktor, now teaching his art and trying to help a student who wants to write his thesis on that old trio of clowns.
  • Kati Outinen is his wife Sylvie, who now suffers from Alzheimer's. Viktor has endless patience and loves her unconditionally.
  • Eva Jenichová is Marketa, the one who ran off with Oskar 30 years ago, to the dismay of his wife and three-year-old daughter.
This seems to have a very deliberate pace as we got to know each of these fellows and the women in their lives. At first I wanted to find a villain, but before the film was over, I cared about each of them (Max is my favorite!).

There was one lengthy skit that seemed tedious, but our screening audience didn't want this movie to end. It's always good to have the last laugh! We walked out with smiles on our faces.


This is a drama about grief, as a father and his two sons deal with the loss of their wife and mother, each in his own way. In this award-winning (SXSW 2014 - Gamechanger Special Mention) 2014 Seattle International Film Festival entry from the USA, we see a highly conflicted 13-year-old boy tear the family apart with escalating delinquent behavior, while his distraught father grieves with a beer in his hand. The younger boy is just trying to read "Swiss Family Robinson" but he gamely tags along on his older brother's late-night escapades.

Writer/Director Kat Chandler has managed to capture authentic adolescent behavior even when it isn't very pretty; e.g., Jacob shows Wes how to heap whipped cream on a slice of white bread and eat it; no one thinks to wash the dishes, clean the house or do the laundry. Both father and older son are inclined to walk out without a word when they become upset. I find that rude!

The cast:
  • Aaron Paul ("Breaking Bad") is Hollis, a single father who has no idea how to be a parent, so most of the responsibility falls to his older son.
  • Juliette Lewis ("August: Osage County") is the sister-in-law who calls Child Protection Services because she thinks Hollis is unable to care for his sons.
  • Josh Wiggins, in his first movie role, is Jacob, obsessed with motocross, and he has terrible taste in friends! As to taking care of his little brother, he is in way over his head. His lack of judgment is stunning...and typical.
  • Deke Garner ("Hyphen") Wes is taken from his family by CPS and placed with his aunt until his father attends family counseling and quits drinking. It was hard to tell who was more upset, Wes or his big brother.
There are scenes in this movie that are upsetting, so clearly we have come to care about these guys and want to see their lives improve. The teenagers seem to compete to see who has the worst potty mouth, and they are always roughhousing.

BTW, I had a lot of trouble hearing the dialogue. Film festival screenings do NOT have closed captions unless they are in a language other than English, so be advised.

Ballet 422

In this documentary, submitted by the USA to the 2014 Seattle Inter- national Film Festival, we watch as dancer/choreographer Justin Peck develops New York City Ballet's 422nd original piece. The NYCB is quite the enterprise, it has over 90 dancers, a full orchestra, a costume shop and its own venue. Justin is one of the 50 dancers that constitute their basic Corps de Ballet.

Director Jody Lee Lipes takes us backstage as we watch the complicated process over a two-month period, from his first experimental steps by himself, then working with the three principal dancers, then a full cast, and finally his premiere. He gets an important tip from the orchestra conductor: Thank the musicians and tell them how important they are to the success of the evening. (BTW, after the premiere, he dashes downstairs, takes off his suit and puts on his costume because he is in the third ballet on the program as a member of the Corps de Ballet.)

I found this to be interesting, but mostly to fans of "the process," because we see snippets of dance, hear a brilliant rehearsal pianist always on the job, see costume designers discuss fabric before they dye it, watch the fittings, the light design, the orchestra rehearsal, and then opening night. We never see the entire ballet (probably a copyright issue), nor do we see or hear the audience's reaction or discover what the critics said.

Bottom line, to me this entire documentary was very "arms' length" emotionally, consequently I didn't connect with it at all. I hasten to add, however, that this would be the decision of the director and the editor, not the performers.


Fed Up

"Sugar in the morning, sugar in the evening, sugar at supper time..."

This compelling documentary describes the deterioration of American health, especially that of our youth, as obesity and childhood diabetes have reached stunning levels. It also shows us how sugar, in its many forms, pervades all of our processed foods; how low-fat foods promise a cruel lie; how overweight teenagers suffer from social fallout; how the cafeterias in America's schools are "sponsored" by Coke, Pepsi, Pizza Hut and McDonald's; plus the shocking and ever-increasing incidence of health problems seen in our children that are a direct by-product of obesity: heart attacks, strokes, cancer, diabetes and reduced longevity. Many children are TOFI (Thin outside and fat inside.) Diet and exercise alone are NOT the answer.

Here's how it works:
  • Farm subsidies from OUR government make the growing of corn enormously profitable.
  • FDA regulations enable the providers of corn sugar to disguise its presence with a wide variety of names: high fructose, sucrose, dextrose, the list is in the documentary and it's staggering!
  • The disclosure of the sugar RDA is exempt from most of the items we buy. Many times what we eat at breakfast ALONE exceeds our Recommended Daily Allowance for sugar!
  • School lunches and vending machines provide highly disguised sugary junk food.
  • Health care costs soar exponentially.
  • According to the experts interviewed in this shocking piece, "A tsunami of diabetes is coming!" (Watch the trailer.)
I remember first reading "Sugar is poison" from an ancient interview with old-time movie star Gloria Swanson. I next heard that same message from Carol Channing (remember "Hello, Dolly?"). The message hasn't changed and is still delivered by politicians, health care professionals and parents. The problem is, the message cannot be acted upon because of the enormous power of the food industry lobby. According to Congress, pizza is a vegetable.

Director Stephanie Soechtig and TV's Katie Couric lead us through this exposé that is a call to arms which offers a hopeful game plan.

What to do? The same thing we did to the tobacco industry:
  • Vilify sugar like we did tobacco! (Fred Flintstone used to advertise cigarettes before he started pushing sugary cereals.)
  • Outlaw the advertising of sugary foods to our children. Mexico is only one of a growing number of countries that have outlawed ads to children for sugary foods.
  • Ban junk and processed foods in the schools. Have school cafeterias offer only their own food again. If junk food is an alternative, real food loses.
And in our homes, we need to cook our own food again...from scratch! Remember how much power we had when tobacco was defeated? We can do it again. See this movie, I've only told you a fraction of what it contains; buy the DVD so you can loan it out; and above all, spread the word!
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Please watch this trailer!
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