Our 2015 Seattle International Film Festival audience was pleasantly surprised by this award-winning story from Germany (English captions) about a Holocaust survivor who must endure facial reconstruction surgery after she is freed. This means her husband doesn't recognize her but wants to recruit her to pretend to be his deceased wife (!?) so he can inherit her family's money. Ya got that so far? It really is NOT confusing, except maybe to her...

Director Christian Petzold successfully brings us war-torn Berlin and wonderful performances from:
  • Nina Hoss as Nelly Lenz, cruelly hurt physically by the Nazis and broken hearted besides. She had been a cabaret singer (her husband accompanied her on the piano) and we hear bits and pieces of the 40s popular song Speak Low from the earliest scenes.
  • Nina Kunzendorf, whose Lene is determined to help Nelly recuperate. She wants to move her to Palestine (Israel isn't yet a country) for safekeeping.
  • Ronald Zehrfeld is the handsome Johnny ("Johannes"), toiling in a rubble-strewn nightclub watching for a chance to inherit his wife's money.
We meet others from her former social circle and try to remember which ones had marks on their photographs that identified them as Nazis. She's not sure who betrayed her.

We watch him teach her how to forge her own signature, style her own hair, tailor her own clothes, etc. It's obvious that he knew his wife very, very well and she finds that flattering, to the dismay of her friend Lene. I really liked that final scene.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
This trailer has English captions:
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Festival Screening: 
Sunday, May 31 - 7:15 PM @ Egyptian

Love & Mercy

It's hard to watch mental illness in action. This biographical film allows us to witness the process for former Beach Boy Brian Wilson, as he hits the heights on the pop music charts and then the depths of isolation and rejection as paranoia and schizophrenia overwhelm his life.

Director Bill Pohlad ("12 Years a Slave") gives us a 119-minute slow trajectory of failure, chaos, confusion and heartbreak as we see our hero brutalized first by his ambitious father and then by his dictatorial personal physician. We can see how everyone else, including his singing group, tries to be patient and understanding; they even wear red plastic fireman's hats in a recording session as he becomes more eccentric and demanding.

We see:
  • Paul Dano ("Prisoners") Young Brian Wilson already carries within himself the seeds of his own self-destruction. To me this looked like a form of Asperger's, particularly as we see the tableware at the dinner party become too loud for him to tolerate.
  • John Cusack ("Lee Daniels' The Butler") Mature Brian Wilson is a physical and mental wreck, unable to write music and utterly cowed by his bullying therapist.
  • Elizabeth Banks ("Hunger Games") Melinda Ledbetter is in car sales when our hero decides he wants a new Cadillac....and then a date. She is shocked by the behavior of Brian's therapist.
  • Paul Giamatti ("Saving Mr. Banks") Dr. Eugene Landy describes himself as Brian's "brother from a different mother." He has facilitated a healthy weight loss for Wilson and is determined to control every aspect of his life.
  • Diana Maria Riva ("The Bridge") Gloria is the observant long-time maid who has witnessed the entire spiral. She wants what's best for Brian and becomes his advocate, along with Melinda.
We enjoy snippets of I Get Around; Fun, Fun, Fun (Til My Daddy Took My T-Bird Away); Surfin' U.S.A.; and a few others, but we do NOT enjoy watching a talented but mercurial young musician sink into madness. Later we hear Good Vibrations and selections from Pet Sounds.

Please stay for the final credits because the "Rest of the Story" is extremely satisfying. This entry was submitted to the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival from the United States.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Here is a trailer:
* * * * * * * * * * * *


What a great beginning to the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival! This documentary from the United States, Russia and Italy takes us to the 2014 Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas. This event takes place once every four years and attracts the best young talent in the world. Director Christopher Wilkinson ("Copying Beethoven") has crafted a film that shows us the humanity of the performers, explores the wonderful world of classical music and offers humor at every turn.

We become acquainted with a dozen or so young pianists, all of whom are protégées in their home countries, all of whom speak surprisingly good English (the sound is excellent and we didn't need captions), and all of whom approach the competition in distinctly individual ways. Each is allowed to select his or her personal choice of Steinway for the competition.

Their interviews are insightful and humorous. For example, the young man from Russia is never nervous, the young man from Italy always wears blue underwear, the young Ukrainian has connected with his long-missing father through Facebook, the young Italian woman likes to practice with her dog in the room; as a result of these interviews, we end up rooting for each and every one.

The judges are equally various: Several of them feel art is so subjective it's impossible to select "The Best"; one feels his readers like to be entertained by his reviews, so is witty and brutal in his assessments; one is careful to judge solely on artistic merits and completely avoid any personal or hurtful observations.

The editing is marvelous! As each pianist competes, we see his or her name, the name of the piece and the name of the composer. There are times when there are six screens with six competitors playing the same movement of the same composition, fingers and arms moving in unison.

I'm glad I didn't have to pick a winner!

Clouds of Sils Maria

An veteran actress must watch a young woman take the ingénue role in the revival of a play that had originally made her a star. This time our heroine has been cast as the older character. Her personal assistant, errand girl and general dogsbody travels with her, manages her complicated schedule and runs lines with her for her new role.

Written and directed by Olivier Assayas ("Paris, je t'aime"), this R-rated film explores the effects of aging, ego and generational differences. It is also a showcase for the brilliant Binoche, who continues to dazzle me with her ability to inhabit a role, speak English smoothly and work with no makeup or frills throughout a large segment of this film. (Notice I said "film." This is "artistic" and as such is murmured and oblique, but very well acted.) She also strips down to the altogether and dives into an alpine lake. Brrrr.....

The cast:
  • Juliette Binoche ("The English Patient") We begin with Maria Enders, an established star enroute to accept an award for a fellow who launched her career decades ago. Before she arrives, he is dead.
  • Kristen Stewart ("Twilight" and "Snow White and the Huntsman") Maria's personal assistant Valentine, is smart, efficient and opinionated. She is a big fan of the American actress cast as the ingénue.
  • Chloë Grace Moritz ("Laggies" and "Hugo") Jo-Anne is just coming off a super-hero role in an American blockbuster. She is the darling of the paparazzi and is having a blast.
There are times we have to stay with a scene for awhile before we are sure if we are seeing two women discuss certain real-life issues, or are watching a rehearsal of two characters discussing those same issues. Binoche moves smoothly between artistic films ("Caché") and light romantic comedies ("Dan in Real Life"). She is always good. The two younger actresses hold their own on the screen.

The title comes from a phenomenon that occurs in a certain part of Switzerland. Clouds creep into a valley and envelope everything. The locals call the effect "The Kaloja Snake." Several bits in the film are never explained (why did the widow burn those documents before she left the house?) but I was frustrated enough by the poor sound (there are no captions in an advance screening) that ultimately I didn't much care.

Expect lots of alcohol and cigarettes, brief nudity, some profanity, no gunshots or fisticuffs and certainly no blowie uppie stuff, but this one passes the Bechdel test with flying colors: Two female characters, both of whom have names, converse about a variety of topics, NOT about a man. Amazing!
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Here is the official trailer:
* * * * * * * * * * * *


Avengers: Age of Ultron

Has blockbuster season started? Relax. Director Joss Whedon ("Avengers") knows how to make a 141-minute, PG-13 film very, very exciting. Although I must confess, I found all the excitement merely filler between the excellent human interactions that generated the biggest audience response. (Note: Superheroes do NOT play well with others, so personality clashes are a way of life.)

Ultron (voiced by James Spader) is the amazing result of brilliant engineering, programmed to preserve life on Earth. Problem is, humankind is now viewed as the most destructive element on Earth, so obviously, IT must be eradicated. Enter our heroes....

This is only a small part of the massive cast:
  • Robert Downey Jr. ("Avengers") Tony Stark/Iron Man is faced with a moral quandary: Can Artificial Intelligence be reprogrammed to help mankind even after this unintended result?
  • Chris Evans ("Avengers") Steve Rogers/Captain America is the moral center to these movies, he chides his teammates if a profane word slips out. His idea of a pep talk: "If you get hurt, hurt 'em back; if you get killed, walk it off."
  • Chris Hemsworth "Avengers" Thor must maintain his connection to his home planet of Asgard because it's future has a direct link to that of Midgard (Earth).
  • Scarlett Johansson ("Avengers") Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow holds her own amid all this testosterone. This time we are treated to an elaborate back story which sheds additional light on her character.
  • Samuel L. Jackson ("Avengers") Nick Fury along with Captain America, is still trying to knit his obstreperous bunch of superheroes into a cohesive fighting force....and come to their rescue when needed.
  • Mark Ruffalo ("Avengers") Bruce Banner/Hulk has the biggest problem with his other identity. He knows Hulk is a deadly warrior and as a result has major issues with the ethics of the situation.
  • Idris Elba ("Thor") Heimdall gives Thor a preview of what to expect on Asgard.
  • Hayley Atwell ("Avengers") We only see Agent Carter through a couple of brief flashbacks. These are heartbreaking for Steve Rogers.
  • Jeremy Renner ("Avengers") Hawkeye has the most to lose. He has a growing family he loves.
  • Paul Bettany ("Avengers") Jarvis/Vision has been a disembodied voice serving Tony Stark from the beginning. Now things look different....
As I said, the cast is enormous. It also includes Don Cheadle,  Cobie Smulders, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Stellan Skarsgård, Andy Serkis, Julie Delpy, Claudia Kim, Stan Lee and a host of others.

The humor is character driven (once again, Stan's is the funniest line). Much of it would go over an audience's head if they didn't know these heroes so well, e.g., Captain America describes himself as "The world's leading authority on waiting too long." The audience immediately remembered his tragic delay with Agent Carter and appreciated his wry humor.

Expect chaotic over-the-top mayhem, endless battles, no sweaty bodies and a bit of blowie uppie stuff. I cringed when that building imploded and saw a strong resemblance to the NYC street scenes after 9/11. That was painful and unnecessary.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
See what I mean:
* * * * * * * * * * * *


The Age of Adeline

Do you think eternal youth sounds appealing? Ask Adeline, who, after an automobile accident over 80 years ago (when she was 29), has never aged a day since. You just might want to think again!

This PG-13 film wasn't at all what I expected; I'm happy to confess it was better. It has silly moments that just don't add up and some of the quasi-scientific explanation is too contrived, but it's unpredictable and fun, so I'm not going to worry about it. Director Lee Toland Krieger ("Celeste & Jesse Forever") manages to overcome some of the silly stuff and embrace the rest.

We watch:
  • Blake Lively ("Gossip Girl") Adeline was her original name but to avoid becoming a laboratory specimen for science, she must move and change identities at least once every ten years. This condemns her to a solitary life. (She's really good at Trivial Pursuit though, you can learn a lot over a lifetime like hers.)
  • Michiel Huisman ("Game of Thrones") Ellis is charmed, fascinated and head over heals for this woman he meets at a New Year's Eve party. He tells her the worst joke she has ever heard.
  • Harrison Ford ("Ender's Game") William is preparing to celebrate his 40th wedding anniversary; both of his children will be there.
  • Kathy Baker ("Saving Mr. Banks") is Connie, William's wife and the mother of his children.
  • Anthony Ingruber (TV and short films) is remarkably well cast as William's younger self; he has that little sideways grin down pat.
  • Ellen Burstyn ("Interstellar") is Flemming, Adeline's elderly daughter, who is considering a move to an assisted living place in Arizona. She has kept her mother's secret all these years.
  • A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (I think it is) represents all her companions over the decades. Unfortunately, humans usually outlive their pets.
I particularly enjoyed the sweep of history that has occurred since 1908, including the construction and use of the Golden Gate Bridge. It's fun to see the evolving hair styles, the fashions and the cars! Our screening audience giggled at the coincidences and at some of the voiceover nonsense, but exited the theater in high spirits. (We had suspended disbelief.)
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Here is a sample:
* * * * * * * * * * * *


Monkey Kingdom

Disneynature presents a true-life G-rated documentary that follows a female monkey (actually a toque macaque) and her newborn baby as they struggle to survive in ancient ruins found deep in the jungles of Sri Lanka. This is the perfect opportunity for a child to see how the "pecking order" works in the animal world. From that, eventually they will see how it applies to humans, not only on the playground, but in the grown-up world as well.

We start with an inspiring report on the many contributions the eight Disneynature features have made throughout the world; a percentage of the money from ticket sales is earmarked for ecological and environ- mental concerns. They have, so far, contributed millions of dollars to various causes. After that report, we switch to "The Monkees," a late '60s pop group which accompanies the title sequence. Other artists will follow....

Warmly narrated by Tina Fey, we watch:
  • Maya, along with her newborn son Kip, as she maneuvers her way from a low ranking semi-outcast, to become the mate of an alpha male which allows her to eat fruit from the top branches of the tree.
  • Raja, the alpha male of the tribe, is catered to and groomed by an adoring entourage. (A macaque's hair is right out of The Three Stooges!)
  • The Sisterhood is comprised of three sisters who, along with their offspring, enjoy the benefits of Raja's status.
  • Kumar is the macho newcomer who wants to challenge Raja.
  • Lex is the horribly disfigured villain of the piece. He's the leader of the tribe of challengers who attack and drive our friends from their home.
We giggle at the scenes in the springtime when all the creatures become "twitterpated" (it IS Disney) and the shots of Maya swimming underwater with Kip clinging to her are astounding. The mama sloth bear toting her cubs on her back (riding "bear-back?) is fun and the leopard leaping up into the tree after the monkeys is chilling. We enjoy watching the youngsters tease the mongoose and the squirrels, the landscapes are breathtaking and the cinematography is the best.

Stay for the closing credits because then you will meet the production crew, hear of their challenges and discover how long it took them to make this marvelous production. You'll be astonished!
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Here is a preview (check out that hair):
* * * * * * * * * * * *


The Longest Ride

Well I'll be hornswoggled if it isn't Clint Eastwood's son Scott starring in Nicholas Sparks' ("The Notebook"), one of those two-hankie romances that Sparks does so successfully.

Directed by George Tillman Jr. ("Faster") using Craig Bolotin's script based on the Sparks' novel, this PG-13 chick flick makes nice exposure for an attractive young couple who learn that the secret of "The Longest Ride" (marriage) is not only love, but also sacrifice and compromise.

We watch:
  • Scott Eastwood ("Fury") Luke is a bull rider (an 8 second ride is the goal) looking for a comeback from a severe head injury a year earlier. He has an old-fashioned way about him that is soooo appealing.
  • Britt Robertson ("Delivery Man") Sophia is on her way to Manhattan to pursue a career in art when a sorority sister drags her to a bull-riding competition. She has never dated a man who has such nice manners.
  • Alan Alda ("The Blacklist") is Ira, an elderly man whom Luke and Sophia rescue when he suffers a heart attack on a lonely country road. His treasured box contains the story which plays on two tracks, one in flashbacks and the other in the present.
  • Jack Huston ("Boardwalk Empire") plays the younger Ira who falls instantly in love when he sees that lovely Jewish refugee from Europe. It's 1940 and her family left just in time.
  • Oona Chaplin ("The Crimson Field") is young Ruth, that refugee who can't see any reason to delay. She wants what she wants and intends to get started right away! Ruth is charming but determined.
Time spent on the battlefield (WWII) is vital to the story, so we coped with the gunfire and the blood. This film has no car chases, profanity or fisticuffs, but it does have full backtal nudity (of Mr. E.) and tastefully implied sexual situations. Whew!

Once again I am reminded what a perfectly splendid actor we have in Alan Alda. There isn't a moment when we weren't completely convinced by his character. He is a treasure. Mr. Eastwood looks disconcertingly like his father. It almost detracts from his own appeal. (The women left this screening with big smiles on their faces, the men saw it more as an endurance test.) We liked it.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
See what you think:
* * * * * * * * * * * *


Furious 7

In my opinion, it's officially over. This multi-billion dollar muscle-car franchise has ended. If Vin Diesel tries again, it will be a big mistake. There is nowhere to go after this one, particularly when we all know Paul Walker is dead and we see his character, through the wizardry of body doubles, CGI and scenes already in the can before his death, take another path. The last few indelible minutes of this film are deeply affecting, the audience was riveted.

Director James Wan ("Saw") specializes in action movies and this one is waaay over the top. One of the things have I appreciated about this series has been the skillful stunt driving and the minimal computer generated imaging. This is NOT one of them; HOWEVER, the emphasis on family values, bravery, loyalty and trust which has been the heart of the franchise, is unchanged, so in my opinion they can leave with their heads unbowed.

We see (I'm abbreviating the name for the returnees):
  • Vin Diesel ("Furious") Dominic is trying to help his wife Letty remember events in their lives before her traumatic brain injury.
  • Michelle Rodriguez ("Furious") Letty feels she died on the date she sees on her tombstone; she doesn't even remember they are married.
  • Paul Walker ("Furious") Brian worries that he's not tough enough to face domesticity...and he already misses the bullets. But it's hard to see his modest little bungalow blown to smithereens; and his scene on that bus teetering over the cliff is a classic.
  • Jordana Brewster ("Furious") Mia wants her husband to accept his family and be happy to give up the excitement of his past life.
  • Tyrese Gibson ("Furious") Roman is hilarious as the alpha-alpha of the group (you've gotta see it!). He makes the plans....
  • Ludacris ("Furious") Our favorite hacker Tej, may have found a soul mate in the tech wizard they are trying to rescue.
  • Dwayne Johnson ("Furious") Watch Hobbs rid himself of a nuisance, the arm cast from an early scuffle, by flexing those ridiculous biceps.
  • Lucas Black ("Furious") No real need to include Sean, but that Southern accent is so charming.... And he DOES explain stuff.
  • Jason Statham ("Furious") Deckard Shaw is the Energizer Bunny who JUST WON"T STOP! His brother was caught by our heroes in the last movie, so Deckard is out for revenge.
  • Nathalie Emmanuel ("Game of Thrones") Ramsey is the ultimate hacker; she has devised a brilliant new program that will revolutionize law enforcement. I like the way she immediately categorizes everyone!
  • Kurt Russell ("The Art of the Steal") Mr. Nobody must have the deus ex machina, the plot device that is the central issue: a brilliant digital tracking system that makes everything up until now, absolutely archaic.
Expect a LOT of over-the-top physical violence, spectacular vehicular mayhem, endless gunfire and some blowie uppie stuff. Do NOT expect bloody scenes or sweaty bodies. There will be plenty of humor and family loyalty. (Dom says he doesn't have any friends, but he DOES have a very big family.)

Over the years, because of the lack of profanity, the skill of the stunt drivers and the emphasis on family values (including prayer before a meal), I have been intrigued by this series. I have taken great pride in its huge success, both domestic and international, and hope the franchise ends on this high note. I will own the DVD just for the last few minutes.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Enjoy this last look at Paul Walker:
* * * * * * * * * * * *


Danny Collins

Life doesn't offer do-overs; but maybe it can offer work-arounds.

Our hero, an aging, hard-living rock star, unexpectedly gets a letter that had been sent to him 40 years earlier by former Beatle John Lennon. (We recognize 'Beautiful Boy' and 'Imagine' in the soundtrack.) Inspired by a true story, this is Hollywood's R-rated version.

Written with great humor and directed unerringly by Dan Fogleman ("Crazy Stupid Love") this star-studded troop never makes a misstep; there are no weak players. Full disclosure: For some reason, I have never been a fan of Al Pacino, but he won me over in this one.

Here are the key players:
  • Al Pacino ("Manglehorn") our eponymous hero is a self-absorbed coke head, a thrice-married playboy and a burned-out performer, sick and tired of his career, his fans and his life. The letter causes an epiphany.
  • Christopher Plummer ("Elsa & Fred") Frank is Danny's loyal manager who finds the letter. He just didn't think he'd have to go to New Jersey... TWICE! His amusing back story about Danny is important.
  • Bobby Cannavale ("Blue Jasmine") Tom is the first person Danny thinks about when he decides to re-examine his life. Cannavale plays decent men wrenchingly well.
  • Jennifer Garner ("Draft Day") Samantha loves her husband and her daughter. She is positive Danny will be sent packing the minute Tom sets eyes on him. Her practical support and quiet affection is vital.
  • Giselle Eisenberg ("Sex Tape") Danny's bonus is a winning little girl named Hope. She's cunning, cute, and conquers him in a heartbeat. I hope Hollywood doesn't take the shine off this little gem!
  • Annette Bening ("Ruby Sparks") Mary Sinclair works at the Hilton where Danny books a room. He checks her out while she checks him in. To their great amusement, she and Danny can synchronize their patter; the dialog is terrific!
  • Melissa Benoist ("Glee") Janie is the desk clerk at that Hilton. She's the one who messes up the guest register.
  • Josh Peck ("Red Dawn") Nicky is the parking attendant at the Hilton. He will NEVER forget Danny!
To me, the most shocking thing is that these are all nice people, including Danny, cocaine habit and all. There will be no gunshots, no violence, no vehicular mayhem, and no blowie uppie stuff; just eight (count 'em - 8!) good people to root for. Are we sure this is an Al Pacino movie?

The closing credits include part of an interview with the folk singer who actually DID receive a letter addressed to him from John Lennon; it arrived decades after Lennon's death. Don't leave too soon....
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Take a look:
* * * * * * * * * * * *