Transformers: Age of Extinction

This PG-13 Sci-Fi outing was waaay more fun than we expected. Because the humor was character driven rather than derived from punch lines or insults, we credit the writer, Ehren Kruger, who specializes in action and suspense ("The Ring 1 & 2" and "Transformers 1 & 2"). Because the action has a LOT of blowie uppie stuff, we credit the director, Michael ("Bang! Bang!") Bay, who has made a highly successful career out of second-rate, mindless action flicks.

Of course this is absolutely loaded with Computer Generated Imaging, but luckily it has a generous amount of closeups with human beings dealing with human issues: e.g., a father who realizes his 17-year-old daughter has a REAL boyfriend; an inventor having trouble paying ordinary bills; a patriot who fiercely clings to his beliefs even after all evidence shows he has made a tragic mistake. Nothing really new here, but packaged nicely.

We see:
  • Mark Wahlberg ("Lone Survivor") Father of a teenage girl, this character has a talent for inventions but lacks business sense. He borrows some money to buy a trashed semi truck then discovers holes in the radiator from anti-tank missiles. Suddenly his lonely farm is teeming with cop cars and black SUVs, because SOMEONE wants it. Our story begins...
  • Nicola Peltz ("Bates Motel") is that (usually) obedient daughter who has landed a special date for the prom. She is exasperated by her father's careless treatment of money, but works with him on his inventions...AFTER she has finished her homework.
  • Jack Reynor ("Delivery Man") When he and that protective father are cornered by Decepticons, he yells,"We're not doing this to save your daughter, we're doing it to save my girlfriend!"
  • Stanley Tucci ("Hunger Games") has developed a new generation of transformers which will make Optimus Prime and his ilk obsolete.
  • Kelsey Grammer ("Partners") and his right-hand man Titus Welliver ("Argo") make us hate mankind.
It was fun watching Tucci and Wahlberg schlep that absurd nuclear device (Yes, that's what I said!) all over Hong Kong as a battle royal rages around them. It was refreshing to see the loyal daughter turn and wade back into the fray because her father had been left behind.

Two scenes had me convinced I suffer from acrophobia: the first is a high-wire bit as our heroes attempt to flee on cables stretched high over the city. The second was a parcour-style chase scene on the balconies and ledges of a Hong Kong tenement. Both had me holding my breath. I never thought I'd say it, but: Good job, Mr. B.
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Here is the trailer:
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Jersey Boys

You know how, when first you read a book, then see the movie, the movie usually seems to fall short? Well.... After seeing the stage productions of "Jersey Boys" many times (Seattle, Tampa, London and New York), this sets me up for a fall. This is a four-person biography with occasional songs which has been drawn from a stage musical. What we do NOT see is the musicality, the theatricality and the immediacy of the stage version. I wanted joyful exuberance.

Bless Clint Eastwood for trying. He attended stage versions of this theatrical biography of "Frankie Valle and the Four Seasons," aka "Jersey Boys," which thrilled the professionals. He selected players from those versions, even though their characters' stories are diluted and stretched out in this 134 minute R-rated (language) ramble. What we see is hardscrabble beginnings, meteoric (ten long years) rise to fame, then the downside, which can best be done by a director who has first-hand experience.

We have:
  • John Lloyd Young ("Jersey Boys" - 2006 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Broadway musical) as Frankie Valle, a young barber trainee who wants out of Jersey. He is bullied and dominated by a "friend," Tommy DeVito, who is forming a musical group.
  • Vincent Piazza ("Boardwalk Empire") as Tommy DeVito, who revels in his creation, changes the course of American musical history...and never lets anyone forget it! In MY opinion, this guy is a cocky, amoral sociopath, and too much screen time is wasted on his youthful crimes.
  • Erich Bergen ("Jersey Boys" Las Vegas cast) as Bob Gaudio, the brilliant songwriter who heard Valli and thought, "I could write for THAT voice!" (His parents wanted him to go to trade school.)
  • Michael Lomenda ("Jersey Boys") as Nick Massi, the "forgotten one" (he's the Ringo of this quartet). He couldn't STAND being DeVito's roommate: "The man is an ANIMAL!"
  • Joseph Russo ("It's Not You, It's Me") is Joe "Joey" Pesci. Yup, THAT Joe Pesci. He introduced Gaudio to Valli.
  • Christopher Walken ("Seven Psychopaths") is Angelo "Gyp" DeCarlo, the mobster who hears Frankie sing "My Mother's Eyes" and is a loyal Valli fan from the get go.
  • Mike Doyle (Lots of TV) as producer Bob Crewe, a "theatrical" fellow who helps launch the group; he understands the business side of the music business.
I take serious issue with the music. I hope the copy I saw was at fault, because the balance was waaaay off and the horn section was simply a cacophony which ruined "You're Just Too Good To Be True." Other selections were off balance, badly mixed and too stylized; most songs become stylized after they have been hits for awhile. "Who Wears Short Shorts" was so stylized in the early scenes, I wouldn't have recognized it if I hadn't known it was there. (Bob Gaudio wrote his first hit song when he was 15 years old, but this isn't mentioned here; he was inducted into the Songwriters' Hall of Fame in 1995.)

BTW, I purchased the book "Places Please" by Daniel Robert Sullivan which is based on his torturous journey to play Tommy DeVito in the Toronto show. It is a great insider's look at the demands made on performers who desperately want to be cast; it describes the hard work and the meticulous choreography involved in the stage versions of "Jersey Boys."

If you haven't been spoiled by the stage version, I think you'll thoroughly enjoy this interesting story, interspersed with well-known songs that are part of the fabric of our lives. If you've seen and loved the stage version, maybe not so much...
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You'll LOVE this preview:
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Think Like a Man Too

This time we're off to Las Vegas for a wedding, but even if the location is changed, the people are still the same. This PG-13 comedy based on Steve Harvey's best seller "Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy and Commitment," is another predictable chapter in the misadventures of a group of long-time friends.

Co-written by Keith Merryman and David A. Newman ("Think Like a Man") and directed by Tim Story ("Think Like a Man") these appealing folks make us laugh all over again.

We have:
  • Michael Ealy ("Think Like a Man") still does a bit of dreaming... ...and self employed now. He doesn't want to see "Jersey Boys" while they are in Vegas.
  • Taraji P. Henson ("Think Like a Man") Our career woman has success staring her right in the face!
  • Romany Malco ("Think Like a Man") This smooth operator keeps encountering old flames, but the heat he feels is not what he expects.
  • Meagan Good ("Think Like a Man") How many of his former "flings" must she meet? Grrr...
  • Jerry Ferrera ("Think Like a Man") Has our overgrown boy finally grown up? The idea of being a father is terrifying, though.
  • Gabrielle Union ("Think Like a Man") has earned the right to be married...and to be a mother.
  • Terrence Jenkins ("Think Like a Man") His mother is still looking out for him; in fact she took the adjoining suite in that Vegas hotel. Watch her take control of the bachelorette party.
  • Regina Hall ("Think Like a Man") is stuck with TWO boys to raise, unless her prospective groom grows up...really FAST!
  • Kevin Hart ("Think Like a Man") See how he becomes Best Man!
  • Wendy Williams (Think Like a Man) has her ex...at least on her speed dial.
  • Gary Owen ("Think Like a Man") They don't want him to play the slots! He DOES want to see "Jersey Boys."
  • Wendy McLendon-Covey ("Bridesmaids") should NOT wear a sweater set to a bachelorette party!
  • Dennis Haysbert ("Dear White People") tries to distract the mother-of-the-groom.
  • Jenifer Lewis ("Think Like a Man") is in Vegas to derail the wedding between her cherished son and "that woman!"
Our screening audience had a great time! I heard unanimous reactions; hoots of laughter, roars of approval and groans of dismay, all right on cue. The final melee is waaay over the top; I LOVED the mug shots!

Artistic merit? Nah... Entertainment? You bet!
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Here is a preview:
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The Rover

"Vengeance is mine," saith somebody.... I'm sure I read it somewhere. That's what this is all about. We are in the desolate Australian Outback ten years after "the global collapse" (shades of "The Road Warrior"), where director David Michôd ("Animal Kingdom") working from a story by Joel Edgerton (better known as an actor "The Great Gatsby") generates a grim, sweaty ordeal with premier performances from his two lead actors.

The cast:
  • Guy Pearce ("Priscilla, Queen of the Desert"...smile...) lost everything in the latest economic catastrophe, and now he has lost his last possession of any value...his car. This is a man capable of sudden violence and unexpected mercy. The versatile Pearce is wonderful as the taciturn loner/rover in this role.
  • Robert Pattinson ("Twilight") is a wounded gang member, left behind to die by his brother. If he isn't retarded, at least he's "simple." Pattinson plays him slightly squirrelly, shambling, always in motion, with little facial twitches; none of these actions are overt, just tiny parts of the whole. I have never been a Pattinson fan, but he is affecting in this one.
In my opinion this bleak, violent, suspenseful story is made believable by two highly capable actors. I was impressed by Edgerton's creation of such a resolute hero, even though he begins with a clichéd post- apocalyptic setting. In the very last scene we finally see why our rover was so determined to get his car back.

Would I see it again? Absolutely not.
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Here is a sample:
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Edge of Tomorrow

Working from a PG-13 screenplay by Jez Butterworth and Christopher McQuarrie, producer/director Doug Liman ("Bourne" trilogy) treats us to a funny, end-of-the-world Sci-Fi flick that evokes "Groundhog Day," over and over again! This is one of those times when I don't mind Computer Generated Imaging a bit because this movie is involving, has relatable characters, an interesting story, plenty of humor and a great cast.

Here is a part of that great cast:
  • Tom Cruise ("Jack Reacher") has become a confident star of enough magnitude that he generously shares screen time and great lines with his co-stars. (Remember he SANG in "Rock of Ages!") Here he is a cowardly wuss trying to desert his military assignment after he discovers he can't hide behind his press pass; he is being embedded with a front-line assault troop on the first day of a major battle. Heroics are NOT for him!
  • Emily Blunt ("Arthur Newman") loved getting all buff and strong for this movie, now she is an action star! Her character is a war hero who led a victorious assault in an earlier battle against these multi-tentacled aliens invading Earth. Watch the trailer to see her shoot Cruise in the head!
  • Brendan Gleeson ("The Grand Seduction") is the cagey Army general who unceremoniously dumps our slick press guy into a suicide mission and refuses to cut him any slack. In fact, he outwits him at every turn.
  • Bill Paxton ("Million Dollar Arm") is the master sergeant who assigns our reluctant "hero" to the J-Troop, which seems to have its share of misfits and goof-offs. They won't even tell their inept new member how to switch off the safety on his gun!
Our hapless press agent is caught in a loop in which he learns more battle skills each time he is forced to repeat that fateful day. I don't like war movies, I don't like CGI, and I don't like aliens, but I had a stupid grin on my face most of the way through this highly entertaining movie.

Expect lots of action, lots of gunfire, lots of blowie uppie stuff and a bit of profanity, but no sweaty bodies or anatomical humor. Whew!
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This trailer doesn't catch much of the humor:
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The Grand Seduction

Take a small Canadian fishing village that is no longer allowed to catch enough fish to support its families (shades of "Local Hero" in 1983); add a petrochemical company looking to locate a new recycling plant; include their stipulation that any town where they build MUST have a doctor; NOW the plot begins to thicken...

The residents are on the dole and they feel humiliated and demeaned. As we watched this delightful Canadian entry to the 2014 Seattle Inter- national Film Festival we knew that this would have a happy ending, we would get to know these quirky folks and we would have a whole armload of people to root for. We just didn't know exactly how we would arrive at this happy ending.

Director Don McKellar brings us:
  • Brendan Gleeson ("The Guard") is the lead conniver. Watch him call his first town meeting! He talks the entire population into his charade as they blackmail a young doctor into a temporary gig during which they hope to seduce him into staying. He also sets up an illegal telephone monitor so they know what sort of impression they are making on the doctor.
  • Taylor Kitsch ("Lone Survivor") is that young doctor, caught with a bit of cocaine at an airport and blackmailed by the former mayor of Tickle Cove to go there for awhile. Gleeson's character reassures him, to his dismay, that the town is "cocaine friendly."
  • Gordon Pinsent ("Due South") is our conniver's best friend. He is game for anything...even trying to pretend he can play cricket! His wife is one of the women who listens in on our doctor's phone calls.
  • Liane Balaban ("Saving Hope") is a lovely young woman our conniver would like to throw into the mix as bait for our studly young doctor. She has heard he is engaged so will have nothing to do with it.
  • Mark Critch (Lots of TV) is the lowly banker in this hamlet, afraid he will be replaced by an ATM.
It's so much fun to watch the two older gals whose job it is to listen in on the doctor's phone calls. Of course, anything he says becomes common knowledge by morning, but he never tumbles.

Other than Mr. Gleeson, who is from Dublin, the director, writers and cast are all Canadian. I love it! This PG-13 film has no gunshots, fisticuffs, vehicular mayhem or blowie uppie stuff. Just lots of resourceful people trying to fool a fairly gullible young man and a good time is had by all.
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See what you think:
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How To Train Your Dragon 2

Director Dean DuBlois working with author Cressida Crowell ("How To Train Your Dragon" book series) has created a nice PG-rated sequel to their phenomenally successful earlier outing. They have managed to book much of the same talent while adding new voices where needed.

As we already know, five years ago a young Viking boy Hiccup and his pet dragon Toothless, united dragons and Vikings on their island. This has changed the society of Berk: now the old bunch of friends hold dragon races while our hero and his dragon set out to chart new territory and draw maps of the known world. They find a secret ice cave and our story begins.

Here is the cast:
  • Jay Baruchel ("How To Train Your Dragon") is Hiccup, motherless son of a king, still trying to promote peace, not war. His dragon Toothless still sports that repaired tail, do you remember when that was done?
  • Cate Blanchett ("Blue Jasmine") is Valka, whom Hiccup discovers in that ice cave. What he finds out about Dragon Rider is a big surprise!
  • Gerard Butler ("How To Train Your Dragon") is Hiccup's father, Stoick, now proud of his son, who didn't turn out at all like he expected.
  • Craig Ferguson ("How To Train Your Dragon") is Gobber, a goodhearted sidekick to the king.
  • America Ferrera ("How To Train Your Dragon") is Astrid, still fearless and feminine, all at the same time.
  • Djimon Hounsou ("Baggage Claim") is Draco, a fierce dragon hunter who intends to rule them all!
Of course we still have the usual suspects as our hero's friends, but the star here is the Computer Generated Imaging, which allows the little 'uns in the audience to experience the sensations of flight. I looked around and every child was transfixed; this was probably just like their dreams. In addition, the ability of the animators to convey subtle emotions is amazing; they get better and better.

I'll be the first to admit I don't remember when or how Hiccup lost his leg, but he clearly has a prosthesis and there is NO comment made about it. Did I watch the first one carelessly? Hmmm...
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Here is what it looks like:
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Lucky Them

This Made-in-Seattle entry from the USA to the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival is directed by Seattle's very own Megan Griffiths ("Eden"). We see a music critic instructed to track down her ex-boyfriend, long considered dead, in hopes this will generate a headline-grabbing story to revive the moribund magazine that employs her. (The office is located at Pike Place Market.)

We see:
  • Toni Collette ("Enough Said") as Ellie, a music critic, NOT an investigative journalist. She has no desire to look into Matt's disappearance/death because it opens old wounds.
  • Thomas Haden Church ("Sideways") is Charlie, Ellie's wealthy ex-hookup who has a new hobby: He wants to make a docu- mentary about her quest; money is no object.
  • Ahna O-Reilly ("Jobs") is Charlotte, Charlie's airy-fairy fiancée.
  • Oliver Platt ("Frost/Nixon") gives us Giles, her pot-smoking boss who has shown great patience with her heavy drinking and unfocused life.
  • Ryan Eggold (Lots of TV) is Lucas, a guitar-playing street musician who rings Ellie's chimes.
  • Johnny Depp ("The Lone Ranger") is Matt, the missing local rock god.
The Seattle screening crowd enjoyed seeing Occidental Park, Alki Beach, the Viaduct, the Comet Tavern, Snoqualmie Falls, and the Mt. Si Tavern. Of course there is more to a really sharp-eyed Seattlite, but that list is good for starters.

We found the story to be intriguing, the acting to be wonderful and the humor to be gentle, despite the R rating (some racy language and sexual situations, plus a LOT of alcohol). We liked it.
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Here is a link to a preview:
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22 Jump Street

Okaaaay.  It worked before, now let's milk it. At least this time our heroes are in college... With a team of writers (a total of SEVEN), co-directors Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, who have collaborated before ("The Lego Movie," "21 Jump Street," and "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs"), are visiting familiar territory: Our characters work undercover in an educational environment sullied by drug sales to youngsters. Problem is, our two heroes aren't sure if they can make the leap to adulthood and a mature friendship, even with a certified couple's counselor!

The cast:
  • Channing Tatum ("White House Down") Jenko thinks he has found a new soul mate, someone who thinks like him, talks like him and plays football like him.
  • Jonah Hill ("Moneyball") Schmidt is jealous. He doesn't like being usurped by some jock, although there is a delectable young beauty who just might do the trick, if only she wasn't the daughter of...
  • Ice Cube ("Ride Along") Captain Dickson, who is profanely emphatic that he will NOT have his daughter dating one of his cops!
  • Amber Stevens (Lots of TV) Maya may be Captain Dickson's daughter, but she has a mind of her own. Looks like the apple didn't fall very far from THAT tree!
  • Wyatt Russell ("Cowboys & Aliens") is Zook, the athlete who bonds with Jenko (and yes, he is the hockey-playing son of Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell).
This R-rated outing starts with a brief recap of the previous movie, much like the TV show always included a recap of the previous episode. The audience really laughed at this inside joke. It has a LOT of profanity, physical humor, anatomical jokes, visits from "21 Jump Street" characters, and some goofy vehicular mayhem. We saw gunfights and fisticuffs, but the only blood I remember was from a shoulder wound on one of our heroes.

The screening audience was ready to enjoy this one, and they did!

To me, the tongue-in-cheek imagining of future sequels (grad school, flight school, dental school, beauty school, driver's ed, ad infinitum) during the final credits scroll, was almost funnier than the movie itself.
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Here is a trailer that doesn't require you to register:
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Bound: Africans versus African-Americans

This controversial World Premier from the USA made a thought-provoking and informational entry for the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival.

Directed by Peres Owino, this documentary illuminates the seldom-discussed ways that Africans and African-Americans view each other, despite their shared history. Ms. Owino has wisely separated this film into easily identified groupings. The one I found most interesting included a series of ancient fortresses along the coastlines used in the slave trade.

They are very clear that the sale of Africans began with Arabian traders and escalated over the centuries to other markets. They also discuss Colonialism and the long-term effects of having their boundaries drawn by Europeans with no regard to tribal or geographical issues.

We see interviews with:
  • Isaiah Washington ("Grey's Anatomy") tells us he had a DNA test done and will soon visit his homeland.
  • Hakeem Kae-Kazim ("Half of a Yellow Sun") is a classically trained Nigerian who was invited to join the Royal Shakespeare Company. He works constantly in movies and television. He is passionate about being a recent arrival and how he is viewed based on the color of his skin.
  • Tene Carter ("Dreamgirls") brings passionate emphasis to her contributions. I'm pretty sure she's the one who learns from her DNA that her family originated in Ghana.
  • Benjamin Ochieng ("Inception") was born in Kenya and speaks fluent Swahili.
  • Nic Few (Lots of TV) was born in Atlanta. He can go from Rap to Shakespeare with ease and has his own perspective on Africans and their attitudes when they arrive.
  • Peres Owino ("Buni TV Comedy Series") is an actress, writer and producer who is an absolute live wire. She is so articulate and funny that I'm glad she included her own insights.
We see a number of others involved in this free-for-all, who are amusing as well as instructive. They are all opinionated and can voice their views in no uncertain terms!

The issue seems to boil down to the African attitude that they refuse to play the "Blame Game" they feel they see in the African-American culture. They say, "Just get over it!" By the time they hear of the deeply ingrained cultural differences however, they seem to have a better understanding of each other's point of view.

As someone whose grandparents were "just off the boat" from Scandinavia, I found it a challenge to internalize the issues being discussed. However, after some good friends screen this one, you may be sure we'll have plenty to talk about!

Black Coal, Thin Ice

China and Hong Kong submitted "Bai ri yan huo" (English captions), to the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival. We are in the icy northern Chinese provinces where a disgraced former policeman and his ex- partner turn their attention to the cold case that ended their careers and shamed them.

In this stylish award-winning film noir (Golden Berlin Bear: Diao Yi'nan and Best Actor: Fan Liao, both in the Berlin International Film Festival 2014) we see an intricately crafted script that left us scratching our collective heads.

The original crime eight years ago involved a corpse whose parts showed up in coal plants within a 100-mile radius. From the time of the victim's death until the body parts began showing up, it was impossible for someone to distribute them to all those sites. They failed to solve the crime.

Now body parts are showing up again, this time wearing ice skates! Our hero is compelled to get involved! We watch as he and his old partner shoulder their way back into the investigation. We see shockingly abrupt and violent killings, peculiar behavior, an inscrutable woman who seems near both the old crime and the new one, and a dogged, persistent man working on the case. There are some humorous repetitions that make us smile every time we see them, e.g., that motorbike, but they are few and far between.

Seeing how some of the action took place was very satisfying, but my suspicions changed so many times I got dizzy, and the ending left me with one foot in the air. Aarghhh!


This entry from Ireland introduces the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival screening audience to an offbeat comedy that features a doleful fellow trying to figure out how to live his life. Problem is, he has a dying father, an estranged girlfriend and an alienated teenage daughter. He seems to have a Midas touch, but everything he touches does NOT turn to "Gold," quite the contrary.... He just never seems able to focus.

Director Niall Heery brings us this cast:
  • David Wilmot is Ray, our hero, trying to honor a wish from his dying father to meet his granddaughter. They have been out of touch since Ray's suicide attempt 10 years ago, so it won't be easy.
  • Maisie Williams is Abbie, the daughter he left a decade ago. She is training for a track meet in which she wants to win the gold medal (for her step-dad).
  • Steven Mackintosh is Gerry, Abbie's track coach, who wants to see her win the gold. Problem is, "juicing" could equal unintended profits for Abbie's stepfather...
  • Kerry Condon plays Alice, the mother of his child. She has built a new life with his former P.E. teacher, a man who is the direct opposite of Ray. This guy is focused, successful, and a pretty good father to her daughter.
  • Martin Maloney brings us Kenny, Alice's husband who markets motivational tapes. They will become very successful if his "motivated" step-daughter takes first place in track.
Our screening audience never understood the significance of that gold- upholstered couch our hero finds abandoned on the street, straps to the top of his beat-up car, and still has months later.

Personally, I failed to see his appeal, so didn't understand the underlying conflict, although I DID see Ray's responsibility for Kenny's condition. Lucky for Ray, Kenny's Traumatic Brain Injury affects his short-term memory, so it isn't a problem. Whew!



Producer/writer Bradley Jackson and director Andrew Disney bring this entry to the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival from the USA. They offer the tradition of the classic "Dodgeball" (you don't have to admit you've seen that one), so brace yourself for a raucous send-up of sports comedies. A reviewer at Tribeca Film Festival called it a "chuckle-fest" so somebody already likes it.

With adulthood staring them in the face, a team of misfits re-assembles for one last game of intramural football. This is the perfect setup for puerile behavior, over-the-top humor and worn-out stereotypes, but remember, clichés work! As I watched this rag-tag team of archetypes, I heard snickers, followed by titters, then finally out-and-out laughter from a delighted audience.

Here's the cast:
  • Jake Lacy ("Obvious Child") is Caleb, a clean-cut Yuppie (to use an outdated term) who is preparing for his LSATs. His fiancée expects her father to hire him in the family law firm when he finishes school.
  • Nikki Reed (The "Twilight" saga) plays Meredith, the really, really repulsive fiancée. (In these movies we have to have someone to loathe, and she is one of the two who fill the bill.)
  • Beck Bennett ("Saturday Night Live") is Dick, another loathsome character, team captain of their arch rivals. He specializes in nasty humor and dirty tricks, is a horrible coach and an embarrassing brother.
  • Kate McKinnon ("Saturday Night Live") brings us the lovely Vicky, who is sweet on Caleb, but is stuck with that awful brother.
  • Nick Kocher ("Much Ado About Nothing" First Watchman) plays Grant, who suffers an unfortunate accident...
  • Brian McElhaney ("Much Ado About Nothing" Second Watchman) is Chance, an uptight wannabe magician whose father wants him to go to medical school.
Even thought we saw gross behavior and heard plenty of anatomical humor, there was an energetic buzz as we exited the theater, the best indicator that an audience had a good time. I know I did. (Shhh, don't tell anyone.)
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Here is a preview:
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Under the Starry Sky

France and Senegal submitted "Des étoiles" to the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival (English captions). This award-winning film (Jury Award and Audience Award - Angers European Film Festival 2014) is directed by Dyana Gaye.

As we all know, African emigration is a world-wide issue which seems to mobilize all sides of the political spectrum. We follow three separate stories which loop us from Senegal to Italy to America and back to Senegal as they examine the African diaspora from all sides.

We see:
  • A young wife from Senegal arrives in Turin, Italy, seeking her husband. It is immediately obvious to us in the audience that he had taken up with another woman, but has since left the country.
  • That husband is now in New York City, reluctant to take handouts and unable to obtain a legal work permit. He is treated kindly by some New Yorkers...not so kindly by his cousin...
  • A widow and her son arrive in Senegal from the United States for a memorial service for her late husband, only to be joined by a second wife and HER children. The son is startled to discover that he has siblings.
  • The young wife figures out what has happened and accepts help from an Italian woman who runs a shelter of sorts. She gets a job and becomes acquainted with another person at the shelter. She refuses to return to Senegal.
I was pleased to see the occasional kindness with which these migrants are treated. Sometimes it can be a horror story but this time it was more upbeat. We had plenty of people to root for, as we watch them adapt and adjust.

Futuro Beach

Brazil and Germany jointly submitted "Praia do Futuro" (English captions) to the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival. Directed by Karin Aïnouz, we see shots of Brazil and Berlin as we watch the two motorcycle rides that start and end this film.

The cast:
  • Wagner Moura is the handsome Donato, a lifeguard who fails to save a drowning man on a beach in Brazil. I'm guessing this failure causes a personality change, because he becomes distant and alienated from his lover and his family.
  • Clemens Schick is Konrad, who invites Donato to come to Berlin with him. Our mustachioed Konrad runs a motorcycle shop in Berlin and sports quite an assortment of tattoos.
  • Savio Ygor Ramos and Jesuita Barbosa are the young and later the adult Ayrton, Donato's younger brother. This casting is so perfect I could see immediately who he was the first time he appeared as an adult.
This is touted as "an astonishingly colorful and intimate look" into two very different cultures on two very different continents but we saw very little of those cultures. In fact, I personally saw very little that was colorful, either, and the only intimate look was the forthright sex scenes (expect some nudity). The characters were oddly distant, both from each other (when they weren't having sex) and from us as an audience. I kept waiting for a payoff, but one never came.

I couldn't find anyone to root for, and I find dance clubs to be uniformly boring the world over. Sorry....

Final Recipe

This was the last (of four) screenings that I did today at the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival, but I thought I'd eat dessert first and review this one right away. The other three will come out in an hour or so. I think I've become a big fan of Gina Kim, who directed this.

This heart-warming, cliché-ridden family dramedy had us chuckling and sniffling right on cue. We watch as a grandfather who has struggled with his failing restaurant in Singapore, learns that he has run out of time; he will be evicted within the month. His grandson, who would rather cook than study, wants to enter "Final Recipe," a blockbuster cooking competition televised from Shanghai. Grandma believes in him, so she pilfers his college money from its hiding place and off he goes!

We cheer:
  • Tseng Chang is Hao, a splendid cook, but getting too old to carry on. He is alienated from his son and has raised his grandson Mark in his restaurant, but wants to spare him from cooking for a living. Hao is a cantankerous old coot; watch him rip into the kitchen help at that hospital!
  • Henry Lau is his grandson Mark, utterly devoted to the art of cooking, of spices, of techniques and of creativity. His hero is David Chan, the reigning "Final Recipe" champ.
  • Chin Han is David Chan, a winner for the past 15 years. He is always interested in the new talent that comes up through the competition.
  • Michelle Yeoh is Julia, queen of the cooking shows and hostess of the televised "Final Recipe" each year.
  • Lori Tan Chinn is Mrs. Wang, Mark's grandmother, caught up in a family of contentious men.
This wonderful film has no captions (it's in English!), no profanity, no sweaty bodies (other than from the stoves), no fisticuffs, no vehicular mayhem (traffic in Shanghai looks as gridlocked as Seattle's!) and no blowie uppie stuff (other than that pressure cooker!). The only love interest is the participants' love of cooking.

You will revel in that ultimate showdown AND you will remember that I always say, "Clichés become clichés because they WORK!" And if you are anything like our audience this afternoon, you'll head for your favorite Asian restaurant as soon as it's over!
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Here's a preview:
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Leading Lady

Director Henk Pretorius ("Fanie Fourie's Lobola" SIFF's 2013 Best Film) brings us another entry from South Africa (English captions when needed) for the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival.

We watch as a struggling actress recruits a South African farmer to help her prepare for a "last chance" audition. He is understandably skeptical because "Brits only come for something, and when they get it, they go."

Here is part of the cast:
  • Katie McGrath ("Merlin") is Jodi, an idealistic drama teacher who desperately wants to play an Afrikaans war heroine in a soon-to- be shot major motion picture. Miss McGrath should find a film in which she plays Keira Knightley's sister; they bear a strong resemblance!
  • Bok van Blerk is Kobus, a cynical South African sheep farmer who is mostly concerned about lack of rain and the woman who left him at the altar.
  • Gil Bellows makes his Daniel a challenge to stomach. I can see his parody of American film directors, but this is too, too silly.
All I can say is "Too predictable, too trite, and too manipulative, made worse by lame acting. It is contrived and illogical, consequently it triggered a "second act sneak" during which press screeners quietly slipped out of the theater.

I stayed for all 96 minutes so you wouldn't have to...

The Great Museum

Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum is the subject of "Das Große Museum" (English captions), a documentary directed by Johannes Holzhausen which grants us access to preservationists, directors, curators, and the general staff, during the year it takes to renovate this baroque treasure.

Winner of the Caligari Film Prize from the Berlin Film Festival 2014, we are treated to what should have been fascinating on-site interviews; instead this was a major snooze. It started with a workman taking a pickax to an ancient floor and another using a paint scraper to remove old wallpaper. Then we moved to bureaucratic minutiae.

We heard budget meetings, spent long minutes with a soon-to-be retired fellow lovingly turning the pages of a book he is plans to pack, watched two women move four pictures endlessly until they finally settled on three. We heard one fellow spend waaaay too much time worrying whether or not the "3" in the proposed poster was "too aggressive," while one woman made an impassioned plea for her department to be introduced around at the next Christmas party. We saw restorations that could have been interesting if the people had only told us what they were doing and a little bit about the object.

All that kept going through my head was, "So THIS is what Art History majors do after they graduate!" This was a sad waste of money for the Arts. In my opinion, an opportunity like this will not come again in my lifetime. Shame on them!

La Mia Classe

This entry to the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival was submitted by Italy (English captions). "My Class" is directed by Daniele Gaglianone; we watch a movie being made that is a documentary about Rome-based immigrants taking an Italian class to improve their chances for work and residence permits.

Valerio Mastandrea is Professor Attanasio, who is creating a movie within a movie to illustrate the trials and tribulations of immigrants.

Of course the documentary they create uses heart-wrenching stories of people who escape from Nigeria, Togo, Bangladesh, Uganda, Ivory Coast, Egypt and Brazil, to name a few. We become acquainted with the actors who play the immigrants and appreciate the humor that is incorporated into the studies. If only REAL language classes could be so fully developed!

The fake suicide and the "professor's" illness were a bit over the top, but their intention is pure. It DID become confusing when the documentary filmmaker would come into the frame to "tweak" the story or the action. We didn't DIS-like this one, but it wasn't in our top 10, either.


Helicopter Mom

We all know anxious parents who hover over their darlings, afraid to expose them to possible rejection, pain or other learning experiences. Director Salomé Breziner takes this basic device and stretches it to absurd lengths as she brings this USA-sponsored entry to the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival.

The cast:
  • Nia Vardalos ("I Hate Valentine's Day") is Maggie. No one can ever say this single mother doesn't LOVE her son. She is terrified that he might miss out on college because of cost, so among other strategies, she has submitted his name for a gay college scholarship.
  • Jason Dolley (Lots of TV) is Lloyd. You might say this beleaguered fellow is a bit non-plussed by that scholarship application, since everything about it is a surprise!
  • Mark Boone Junior ("Sons of Anarchy") is Max, the fellow we realize is Lloyd's dead-beat father.
I found this contrived screenplay insulting to gays, parents, teachers, and the audience. The humor is anatomical and absurd, Maggie is annoying and repugnant, while Max is a parody: a former flower-child stoner, but even HE has more common sense than that idiotic mom. To watch some- one who is utterly tone deaf to her effect on others is NOT funny! We could only pity the poor son and writhe in embarrassment for him as we waited for this thing to be over.

Life Feels Good

Poland submitted this marvelous entry to the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival. "Chce sie zyc" (English captions) has won numerous awards: Trident Award - Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival; Audience Award, Best Actor, Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress - Polish Film Awards 2014; Jury Prize - Cleveland International Film Festival 2014; Jury Prize and Audience Award - Gdynia Film Festival 2013; Audience Award, Gran Prix des Americas, and Ecumenical Prize - Montreal Film Festival 2013; Audience Award - Chicago International Film Festival 2013 and nominated for New Director's Showcase Award - 2014 Seattle International Film Festival.

Directed by Maciej Pieprzyca, this star-studded cast is convincing from the first frame. Billed as heartbreaking and humorous, we watch as a romantic young man with cerebral palsy struggles to be understood by his family and caretakers. We are privy to his thoughts, so we feel his frustration and pain as people consistently misunderstand and under- estimate him.

The cast:
  • Dawid Ogrodnik is Mateusz, our flailing hero, unable to control his limbs or his voice, but able to think the entire time. His world view is limited because he has never attended school or left home, which makes for some funny impressions.
  • Dorota Ilkak plays his mother, patient, determined and unfaltering in her love and mindful of his needs. This actress ages soooo convincingly it's amazing.
  • Arkadiusz Jakubik is his father, funny, creative and resourceful in finding ways to reinforce Mateusz's self worth. He is the reason the family is so accepting and supportive. He says "Never give up!" and "Everything's fine!"
In my opinion, Daniel Day Lewis ("My Left Foot") had better watch his back! Dawid Ogrodnik is flawless in this role; he was also the appealing saxophone player in "Ida," another Polish film at this year's festival, which bears absolutely NO resemblance to Mateusz. Ogrodnik is a brilliant and talented actor!

Do NOT miss this one!


This award-winning entry to the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival was submitted by Italy/Mexico (in English, no captions). The awards include Best Director - Marrakesh Film Festival 2013, and New Voices/New Visions Award - Palm Springs Film Festival 2014. Andrea Pallaoro is the writer/director; I ponder how one would manage a dairy farm during a prolonged drought.

Here is the cast:
  • Catalina Sandino Moreno ("Mary Full of Grace") Christina is the hearing-impaired wife of a dairy farmer.
  • Brian F. O'Bryne ("Prime Suspect") Ennis can't pay the feed bill for his cows.
  • Kevin Alejandro ("Arrow") Noah owns a service station and is having sex with Christina.
This is described as "a simmering evocation of marital discord...." At risk of a few spoilers, here's the situation:
  • This couple has five children and another on the way.
  • The teenage girl is discovering her sexuality.
  • The teenage boy has discovered centerfolds and Dad's rifle.
  • The middle boy does a rain chant.
  • The dog is pestered into nipping, then taken out and abandoned.
  • The farmer seems to be losing his vision in one eye.
  • The pace varies from leisurely to glacial.
  • Dialogue is practically nonexistent.
  • Most of these endless scenes do not add anything but dread.
  • Grandpa is in a nursing home and is non compos mentis.
My view:
  • There are too many dairy cows for a one-man operation.
  • The dog is so dumb it can't jump out of a pickup.
  • Most of the scenes are so mundane I wondered why they were included...HOWEVER...many of them are beautifully framed, lit and photographed. That must be the award-worthy direction.
Do NOT waste 98 minutes on this dreary thing; it will feel like three hours! Everything about this tragedy promises doom and gloom...and then keeps its promise!