The Pretty Ones

The 2016 Seattle International Film Festival screened the North American Premiere of "Las lindas" (English captions), a documentary submitted by Argentina. Unfortunately, this isn't a review because I joined the silent dribble of screening folks who exited the theater as soon as we discovered the quality, the technique and watched yet another clichéd night club scene with young people bobbing senselessly,  inane conversation shouted over tuneless music and strobe lights flashing.

Director Melisa Liebenthal, age 24, has assembled a group of friends who wryly discuss the images and roles society has for young women and the pressures those represent. She uses interviews, family photos, and videos.

I should have watched:
  • Melisa Liebenthal
  • Josefina Roveta
  • Victoria D'Amuri
  • Camila Magliano
  • Michelle Sterzorvsky
  • Sofía Mele
Our screening audience was reduced by a significant number and I personally didn't wait to see what the survivors thought of it. I've let you down, but think maybe you should know my impression.

The Brand New Testament

Belgium submitted this acclaimed satirical comedy, "Le tout nouveau testament" (English captions) to the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. Working with co-writer Thomas Gunzig, writer/director Jaco Van Dormael puts together a brash sendup of religion based on the idea that God is alive and living in Brussels with his daughter. He is profane, bad-tempered and cruel.

His daughter concludes that Dad is doing a poor job of it, so takes over his computer. This leaves God angry, powerless and frustrated; he really wants his old job back!

The cast:
  • Benoît Poelvoorde - God (Dieu) complains his job is demanding, but he doesn't appreciate being ousted by his own daughter. She wants to punish him for a hilarious list of annoyances he has inflicted on the human race. His character gets the most punishment and most richly deserves it!
  • Pili Groyne - Ea used her father's computer, so when she leaves through a front-loading washing machine, he is furious. Before she left she had told everyone when they would die. See what happens with THAT!
  • Yolande Moreau is La femme de Dieu; she just wants to be able to vacuum in peace, but her impatient husband, God, doesn't like the noise. She is befuddled and browbeaten, but she likes baseball...
  • David Murgia - Jesus Christ knows exactly what his sister is upset about but he thinks 12 apostles was a mistake. He says their mother had suggested 18, like the players in a baseball game.
  • Catherine Deneuve - Martine is an unhappily married socialite. Her solution made me realize what a fine actress we have in Deneuve.
  • Laura Verlinden - Aurélie is so beautiful all the men want her and all the women think she's a hussy. Watch what happens when the assassin gets her in HIS sights!
The press screening audience exited the theater with big smiles on our faces. To me, of particular note was a unique hand ballet that left me dazzled. And we have to wait through the final credits to see what happens to Kevin (you have to be there)...

The Queen of Ireland

This documentary submitted by Ireland, enjoyed its North American Premiere at the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. Director Conor Horgan, working with Drag Queen Rory O'Neill (Panti Bliss), has recorded for posterity Ireland's historic battle over a referendum to legalize gay marriage. Charismatic drag queen Panti Bliss, in full outrageous form, sort of slides into activism when she makes some comments about homophobia. His/Her comments led to a tempest in Irish politics which was dubbed "Pantigate."

As usual, one thing leads to another and gay marriage becomes the central issue. She describes herself as a court jester, or a clown, but to her, the issue of self-respect and acceptance is as important as gay marriage. The idea of gays getting married is simply a formal admission by the government that all of its citizens are equal.

Our SIFF audience laughed at his battle cry, "Sissy Power!" but we were touched by his description of his feelings at a pedestrian crossing. One senator in Ireland "outed" himself years ago, so he became "The Gay Irishman," like he was the only gay in the country. He found that amusing, and so did we! This is nicely done, although "Panti" mugs constantly for the camera...

His return to his tiny hometown, Ballinrobe, Ireland, is particularly important to him, and he describes it well...

Come What May

"En mai, fais ce qu'il te plaît" (English captions when necessary) was yesterday's entry to the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. It screened at the Shoreline Community College, which was my first time to see that venue.

Confidently written and directed by Christian Carion with writing assistance from Andrew Bampfield and Laure Irrmann, this beautifully filmed historical drama takes us to a small village in France just as German troops begin their relentless march through the country in May, 1940. Based on advice from the prefecture, the village of
Pas-de-Calais reluctantly agrees to evacuate. Much of this historical drama takes place as they plod down country roads, carrying their most treasured goods in wagons, trucks, carts, wheelbarrows and baby buggies.

Millions of European citizens were displaced by WWII when they found themselves in harm's way. And yes, they were strafed by the Luftwaffe and harassed by German troops.

The cast:
  • August Diehl is Hans, a loving father from Brussels who is trying to get his son Max to safety before the Germans take him prisoner again.
  • Joshio Marlon is Max, the seven year old who leaves messages for his father on the blackboards of schools after they become separated.
  • Olivier Gourmet - Paul is mayor of their little hamlet and it's his decision that starts their evacuation.
  • Mathilde Seigner - Mado is the mayor's wife. She is assertive and has her own opinions about how to survive.
  • Alice Isaaz is Suzanne, the local school teacher. She uses her authority and charisma to help the children bear up under the stress. She particularly relates to motherless Max after he is separated from his father.
  • Matthew Rhys - Percy is an Allied soldier from Scotland. He discovers Hans is not an enemy, AND Hans is multilingual! 
Both the father and son speak German and French. The father can also switch to English when he encounters the Allied soldier. As an American who grew up monolingual, I can't help but feel inadequate. This was the last screening for the festival, so I won't show the dates and times here. There is no point in frustrating you. ...smile...


Women He's Undresssed

The 2016 Seattle International Film Festival welcomed this entry from Australia that features the legendary (three-time Academy-Award winning) fashion designer, Orry-Kelly. (born Orry George Kelly in Kiama, Australia).  It is Nirvana for fans of movies, celebrity insider information and just plain gossip. In addition, Director Gillian Armstrong ("Oscar and Lucinda"), working with screenwriter Katherine Thomson (LOTS of TV), has concocted a delicious peek at 30s, 40, and 50s Hollywood.

This audaciously clever docu-drama boasts a combination of newsreels, studio clips, and movie bits, plus scripted pieces using actors who occasionally fill in for celebrities. There are interviews and stars' endorsements, studio publicity photos, gossip columnists and old home movies. (Oh, did I mention gorgeous clothes?)

We learn about our hero's move to the US in the 30s, sharing space and life with Archie Leach. If that name sounds familiar, it should. That was Cary Grant's name before the movie studio changed it.

We watch an actor cleverly inhabit Orry-Kelly's persona, usually in a rowboat (!?). He efficiently fills us in on his first work (as a failed actor), his being drafted into the Army at age 46 (and soon "un-drafted"), and his move into costumes. We see Busby Berkeley's kaleidoscopic choreography (inspired by the military), plus scenes from "Casablanca," "An American in Paris," "Some Like it Hot," "Auntie Mame," "Les Girls," "Oklahoma," "Irma la Douce," "Arsenic and Old Lace," and countless Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck films. Always narrated by a voice representing Orry-Kelly from his book; and Archie Leach often moves in and out of the picture.

There is a very forthright segment of the film that talks about Cary Grant and Randolph Scott, their marriages and the gossip that constantly surrounded them. And we can count on a generous helping of wry humor to move things along.

Orry-Kelly worked on 285 films during the course of his Hollywood career and his battles with Jack Warner were legendary (but he kept working for him).

Believe it or not, I have only touched on part of this delightful film. The interviews with his mother (always at her clothesline) are funny, although her advice is terrible!

I enjoyed it.


Hunt for the Wilderpeople

This award-winning PG-13 comedy was submitted to the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival by New Zealand. That's why some of you have seen this review before. We follow a simple little story that escalates into national manhunt in the spectacular New Zealand bush, when a rebellious boy and his grumpy new foster uncle go missing.

Actor/writer/director Taika Waititi ("What We Do In the Shadows") has adapted his screenplay from the popular book "Wild Pork and Watercress" by the late Barry Crump. The screenplay is divided into ten chapters which organizes our story into coherent (funny) chunks, but I'll skip that technique here.

The cast:
  • Julian Dennison - Ricky Baker is a defiant, rebellious young juvenile delinquent. Child Protective Services brings this pudgy boy out to a country place to live with a new set of foster parents. He is surly and uncooperative. The only thing he likes in his new bedroom is a hot water bottle. He steals a flashlight and runs away.
  • Rima Te Wiata - Bella M. Faulkner smiles when Ricky runs away. In the morning she greets him out in the woods, tells him he only made it about 200 yards, so she offers him breakfast. That way he won't be hungry when he runs away again. He's a bit flummoxed.
  • Sam Neill - Hector Faulkner is a cantankerous old loner. His wife tolerates him with good cheer and works around his bad temper. When Ricky angrily describes him as a child molester, nothing could be further from the truth, but the media eats it up!
  • Rachel House - Paula Hall can only follow the Child Protection Agency manual. It says if a boy can't fit into a foster home, he's off to Juvenile Detention! She is like a bulldog: She can't let go!
  • Oscar Kightley - Officer Andy just wants to keep a low profile, avoid a verbal assault by Ms. Hall, and maybe find a tasty snack.
As we expected, this story was (eventually) predictable, but the surprises kept coming and the story just kept getting better. The women are particularly good and young Dennison makes his story arc look easy. Granted, some of this goofy adventure is over the top, but by then we are having such a good time and are so invested in our people, we don't care.

I'll probably own this DVD because I missed a lot of the witty dialogue.
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Here is a trailer:
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This family drama "Þrestir" (English captions) was submitted to the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival by Iceland. We follow a teenage boy who is sent to live with his less-than-admirable father in a remote working-class part of Iceland. The only bright spot in this otherwise miserable change is his wonderful grandmother, who feeds him, keeps him company and understands his impatience with his hard-living father.

Writer/director Rúnar Rúnarsson ("Volcano") brings us this award-winning film (Won Best New Director @ Chicago International Film Festival; won four acting prizes @ Les Arcs European Film Festival; won the Fipresci Prize @ Göteborg Film Festival; won Best Film @ San Sebastian International Film Festival; won Best Debut Film @ Spirit of Fire; won Best Screenplay and Best Feature Film @ Sao Paulo International Film Festival; won Artistic Achievement Award @ Thessaloniki Film Festival, and won Best Film @ Warsaw International Film Festival).

Prepare to be impressed by this "rites of passage" for a teenage boy; at no time do you have the impression that anyone is "acting."

The all-star cast:
  • Atli Óskar Fjalarsson - Ari didn't ask to be shipped off to his father, but his mother is on some sort of international charity tour with her new (Danish!) husband. Our young hero loves to sing and he's good at it, but other activities, like shooting, drinking, doing drugs and fighting...not so much...
  • Ingvar E. Sigurðsson - Gunnar never wanted to have custody of his son. He had always forgotten Ari's birthday, can't seem to stay in AA, and still resents his ex-wife's new husband.
  • Rakel Björk Björnsdóttir - Lára surprises Ari with her new boyfriend. Ari had sort of assumed...
  • Kristbjörg Kjeld - Grandmother says Ari's father is a "good man," he just hasn't finished growing up yet. She is unfailingly cheerful and upbeat.
The scenery is first rate, but there are some dramatic scenes in this story that I would rather not have seen. YUCK! The entire Westfjords community reflects it's working-class roots and Ari simply doesn't fit in. The pace is glacial, so I became impatient. See? I'm out of step with those film festivals again! ...sigh...

Paul a Quebec

The Seattle International Film Festival is honored to host the US premiere of this wry French Canadian dramedy (English captions) from Québec. Be prepared to witness a happy family with no betrayals, no infidelities, no rebellious children and secure relationships. Everything is photographed with great attention to detail and authenticity.

Writer/director François Bouvier brings Michel Rabagliati's popular graphic novel "The Song of Roland" to the screen. We see a graphic designer/cartoonist cope with the ill health of his father-in-law as he, his long-time partner and their daughter join the rest of the enormous (and joyful) Beaulieus clan at the family home. I love the morning tooth- brushing montage!

It's the summer of 1999. We are in Montreal...

Our two main characters:
  • François Létourneau - Paul works in a print shop, sings in a neighborhood choir, enjoys his partner and their precocious little girl. When the print shop goes digital, we laugh at the familiar problems that surface. It's even worse when they get a computer for their home.
  • Gilbert Sicotte - Roland hasn't told his family the truth about his ailment although his wife knows. This actor does a terrific job showing us the various stages of illness. Flashbacks explain why he is such a terrific husband, father and grandfather.
It's clear that Roland and his wife adore their three daughters and their offspring. This family is functional, as opposed to dysfunctional. Shocker!



This United States Premiere was submitted by Kazakhstan to the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. "Zhat" (English captions) centers around an orphaned boy who goes to live in the wilderness during the days leading up to WWII. His village is depredated by the Germans, then falls under the boot of the USSR after the war ends, but he remains an outsider, still in love with the girl he left behind.

Director Yermek Tursunov has been working on this autobiographical trilogy for some time. This is his final chapter. He wants to remind us that over 5 million men, women and children died in Kazakhstan during the first half of the 20th century. In this chapter we watch a little boy grow to a man, sharing his living quarters with the colt he fled with (now a horse) and a pack of wolf cubs he rescued from their mother's corpse. He stays in touch with an old man in his village, which seems to be how he exchanges animal pelts for gunpowder and other supplies. The old man describes Pope Julius as "sort of grand mullah..."

We come to know many of the villagers and watch them cope with aging and injuries. Stunning scenery and interesting animal photography add to the story. In my opinion, the lesson we learned is "No good deed goes unpunished." I found this absolutely fascinating, yet difficult to watch.


Family Film

The Czech Republic submitted "Rodinny film" (English captions) to the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. As this black dramedy unfolds, we follow a couple that leaves on their dream vacation (they left the children alone) but are lost at sea.

Writer/director Olmo Omerzu, working with Nebojsa Pop Tasic, has created this award-winning drama which shows us what children, adults (and a dog), do when things come apart. We only hear that the parents are shipwrecked. The scenes of the dog battling the waves at sea are particularly harrowing!

His cast:
  • Karel Roden - Igor is the papa. He's planned this vacation with his adored wife for a long time. I'm not sure why they took the family dog.
  • Vanda Hybnerová - Irena is looking forward to the vacation and she trusts her children to behave in their parents' absence.
  • Daniel Kadlec - Their son Erik is curious about everything, as any 15-year-old boy should be.
  • Eliska Krenkova - Older sister Kristýna is trying to sort out some information she didn't want.
  • Jenovéfa Boková - Her lovely friend Anna is enigmatic but the more we see of her, the less we trust her. Check out her new version of "Spin the bottle!"
  • Martin Pechlát - Uncle Martin is the sort of man that women do not flock to!
  • I don't know who plays the dog but Otto is brilliantly directed. I've never seen a dog get so tangled up in underbrush but continue to seek a way out. And you can SEE his nose twitch when he recognizes an odor.
An unexpected medical emergency is heaped on the problems the family is already experiencing. In the meantime, we keep tabs on the dog's progress on a deserted isle. It's clear that we are being manipulated, but personally, I didn't care. I just relaxed and was entertained.

Eternal Summer

The 2016 Seattle International Film Festival was honored to host the North American Premiere of this multifaceted film from Sweden. "Odödliga" (English captions) is a romance with some drama thrown in to keep it interesting. In fact, I found myself hoping it wouldn't have too much drama!

Writer/director Andreas Öhman has assembled a terrific cast that depicts a whirlwind romance which boils down to this basic plot: Isak wants Em, but she wants more... This is a "Road" movie but once their little jaunt to "steal a cello" runs out of money, it takes on darker aspects than I wanted to see...

  • Filip Berg ("A Man Called Ove") Isak wants to fall in love and he wants to be loved in return. His character is witty, appealing, and (sorta) sensible. He has a boring job in an amusement park, plus an immature father.
  • Madeleine Martin ("Beck") Em is the capricious one. Their first encounter is beyond "meet cute!" She smart, athletic, and is from a high-achieving family. Her sister Felicia is the paragon. Em suffers from existential anxiety.
  • Fanny Ketter ("Here is Harold") Felicia grabs the family spotlight with her grades, her talents and her sociability. Their parents dote on her, even though, deep down, they DO love Em.
  • Torkel Petersson ("Patrick, Age 1.5") Isak's father Lars is a perpetual adolescent. He lies about his age and would like others (particularly young women) to think Isak is his brother, not his son.
I would never expect this pair to pull off a flawless crime, but that's why this is strictly entertainment, not ART. As our stars encounter beautiful scenery in the Northern woods, Isak likens it to "Lord of the Rings," not Sweden. When Isak complains that he has never even been to Legoland, I feel his pain. There are a number of similar lines I could relate to.

This was a crowd pleaser, not an artistic achievement. I enjoyed it! By the way, the English captions are terrific. Just try translating dialogue that rhymes!



The 2016 Seattle International Film Festival welcomed "Maryland" (original title) from France/Belgium (English captions).

Award-winning writer/director Alice Winocour ("Mustang") with writing assistance from Jean-Stéphane Bron brings us a terrific thriller about a veteran with PTSD who has been hired to be a bodyguard for a wealthy man's wife.

We watch:
  • Matthias Schoenaerts ("The Danish Girl") is Vincent, a capable soldier, but inclined to overreact.
  • Diane Kruger ("Fathers and Daughters") - Jessie can't see why Vincent acts the way he does. She is unaware she's in any danger and insists she doesn't know what her husband does for a living.
  • Paul Hamy ("French Blood") - Denis can see Vincent will probably be mustered out of the military because of his PTSD, but at least he can find work for him. And they have each other's back...
  • Zaïd Errougui-Demonsant in his first role, brings us Ali, the little fellow who must be protected.
Most audiences have a conditioned response to a scene where the camera lingers after the central issue is resolved. If it stays too long, we expect an attack: a gunshot or a knife. I found this to be exhausting even though I realize it is just a matter of style. Trust me, there are enough "Gotcha!" moments without all of those that seem to presage danger when there is none.

The extremely close close-ups, the rain, and the ending, made me think this one is artistic. YOYO (You're On Your Own)

By the way, "Maryland" is the name of the estate where the wealthy employer lives with his family.

Paths of the Soul

China submitted "Kang rinpoche" (English captions) to the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. It is exactly this sort of experience that prompts people to attend film festivals: we get to see behaviors, customs, locales, and ceremonies we otherwise would never see. Our press screening audience appreciated this involving docu-drama which followed a group of Tibetans on a "bowing pilgrimage" to Lhasa (their holy city). Director Zhang Yang had his valiant filming crew trek along with our pilgrims, braving every kind of hardship on their journey.

A "bowing pilgrimage" entails a slab of wood held in each hand, which enables the devotee (who is protected by a leather blacksmith-type apron) to bend over, slide the wood on the ground until he or she is prone, touch his or her forehead to the earth, then get up, walk a few steps and repeat the process... For days. For weeks. For months! Kilometer after kilometer! The act of bowing is called "kow-towing." (Sound familiar? ...smile...)

We saw:
  • Astonishing scenery: mountains, rivers, valleys, farmlands, villages, and that legendary monastery!
  • A pregnant woman gets permission from her village to go along, gives birth on the road and schleps her wee one on her back for the remainder of the trip AND she continues her bowing!
  • A spunky little girl is sent by her grandmother. She is game for everything but I noticed that she wears Crocs and talks to Grandma on a cell phone.
  • That sturdy little tractor that hauls their tents, stove, supplies, dry clothes, etc., is indispensable!
  • Tibetans along the way were uniformly hospitable, inviting our intrepid group for tea and overnight accommodations.
We agreed that we all learned a LOT from this one! You will, too.

Sleeping Giant

The 2016 Seattle International Film Festival welcomed this adventure/drama from Canada. Written and directed by Andrew Cividino (first full-length film) with assistance from Blain Watters and Aaron Yeger, we watch three teenage boys try to cope with boredom at a summer cottage on the shores of Lake Superior.

This award-winning film boasts the following cast:
  • Jackson Martin - Adam Hudson is a sheltered city kid. Not only that, he's a decent kid: he tries to avoid breaking the law, respects his girlfriend, and scorns his father's behavior.
  • Lorraine Philip - Adam's mother Linda can see he's a good boy, but she can't see much else.
  • David Disher - Adam's father William can't alibi his way out of this one...
  • Nick Serino - Nate is Adam's cousin. He is NOT a sheltered kid. In fact, I wanted to hide from HIM! He has a smart mouth, a rebellious nature and NO respect for anyone.
  • Reece Moffett - Riley is another cousin. His specialty is trying to keep up with Nate. They dare each other all the time!
  • Rita Serino - Grandma tells her beloved Nate he'd better watch his mouth and behave himself or she will wear undersized diapers when he has to care for her in her dotage.
Our press screening audience was impressed by the quality of the acting and directing. I found myself wavering between stifling a yawn and holding my breath. Finally, I had to admit those boys were doing exactly what bored boys do: hang out; talk dirty; break the law; vandalize things; burn bugs; play with matches; smoke cigarettes and pot; fight each other; defy the adults and generally try to cope with that overdose of testosterone that seems to affect teenage boys.


The Nice Guys

This R-rated romp (language, violence and subject matter - porn) was far better than I expected. It starts out with a bang and goes on from there. Both of the leads are much-acclaimed, but the supporting actors are pretty good, too. When a cast is led by a couple of birds (Gosling and Crowe) I guess they had better be ready to soar. I just read that they received a warm welcome at the Cannes Film Festival this year (2016).

Writer/director Shane Black ("Kiss Kiss Bang Bang") with writing assistance from Anthony Bagarozzi, creates a pair of private detectives, only marginally successful, caught up in non-stop action, witty banter and great physical comedy (check out Gosling in that mens'-room stall!). The plot is cleverly crafted; I only saw one or two of the twists coming, so was surprised from beginning to end.

Part of the cast:
  • Russell Crowe ("Noah") Jackson is a tough, never-say-die fighter. He doesn't suffer fools gladly: watch him when Holland confuses "Munich" and "eunuch." Crowe may have lost some of his sex appeal, but his acting skills are undiminished.
  • Ryan Gosling ("The Big Short") Holland is a screw up; even his patient daughter says so. He's mostly a con man who dabbles in detective work. Gosling's comedy gets better and better: I saw him steal a bit from Abbott and Costello with nary a backward glance.
  • Angourie Rice ("Walking with Dinosaurs 3D") Holly keeps finding her dad in one catastrophe after another. Of course she isn't above blundering into a few scrapes of her own. Maybe it was her character here, but I am REALLY impressed by this young Australian.
  • Kim Basinger ("Charlie St. Cloud") Judith Kuttner says Amelia is her daughter and she wants her in protective custody. Kuttner prosecutes violations ranging from catalytic converters to porn.
  • Margaret Qualley ("The Leftovers") Amelia is a actually hiding from her mother but she has something to say to the world!
  • Matt Bomer ("Magic Mike") John Boy is also looking for Amelia and he doesn't give up. I loved his fluffy bangs in this one.
  • Lois Smith ("True Blook") Mrs. Glenn is positive she saw her porn-star niece two days after she was reported murdered. I'm surprised Ms. Smith finds time to be in film; she's also a successful stage actress.
Each detective is hired separately to "Find Amelia!" Naturally they run into each other and the two of them "detect" their way into a whole bunch of trouble. Seems like EVERYONE wants to find Amelia.
And people keep getting killed...

I laughed out loud many times and had a terrific time.
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Check out the preview:
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The Meddler

Do you have a mother? If so, there might be something in this little comedy that you recognize...

Writer/director Lorene Scafaria ("Seeking a Friend For the End of the World") seems to be in familiar territory. From the trailers, I was afraid this would be waaaay overdone, but to my relief, even though this mother has some boundary problems, she isn't as bad as advertised. And she DOES have a good heart.

Scafaria assembled this sterling cast:
  • Susan Sarandon ("Tammy") Marnie is still mourning the death of her husband in Brooklyn two years ago but she's getting a bad feeling about her daughter in L.A.
  • Rose Byrne ("Spy") TV scriptwriter Lori is mourning the betrayal of her lover a few months ago AND the death of her father. Now she has to go to NYC to shoot a pilot. (Try telling THAT to the guy at the airport!)
  • Jason Ritter ("Gravity Falls") Jacob is the one who got away from Lori.
  • Jerrod Carmichael ("Neighbors") Freddie shows Marnie how to make her iPod work.
  • Jo Jordan ("The Last Resort") The old woman in the hospital keeps making those peculiar motions with her hand.
  • J.K. Simmons ("Whiplash") Zipper does NOT have a motorcycle, he has a Harley! (Is that Simmons doing his own singing? Wow!)
  • Michael McKean ("Better Call Saul") Mark is mistaken for a serial killer. Yowch!
  • Cecily Strong ("The Boss") Jillian gets a dream wedding to the woman of her dreams.
This is PG-13, so expect little or no profanity but our gal DOES eat some marijuana to hide it from a traffic cop. This is refreshingly free of Computer Generated Imaging and blowie uppie stuff. Furthermore, I didn't even SEE a gun! Wow!

This won't win any awards, but it's entertaining and Sarandon has found a comfortable niche for her considerable talents.


Ice and the Sky

The 2016 Seattle International Film Festival exhibited this Antarctic-based documentary from France. Even though it was directed by Academy Award winner Luc Jacquet ("March of the Penguins" which I LOVED), I felt this was an over-inflated after-school special sponsored by National Geographic. The voiceover is an older man, but NOT a Frenchman. It is easily understood, even without captions, and for ME to say that, it really IS easily understood.

Granted, the glaciologist, Claude Lorius, is handsome and accomplished, but personally I had had enough of the camera with its 360° sweep, seeing snow, ice, rocks, snow, ice, rocks and a glacier, the third time. And the long thoughtful examinations of his craggy face in profile. And all those shots of machines... Yes, Arctic exploration is demanding and dangerous. Yes, the cold is unimaginable. Yes, the scientists are a rugged bunch. Yes, the distances are daunting. But enough is enough.

Over the course of his esteemed career, Lorius has come to realize that the bubbles of air contained in glacial ice held the key to understanding our climate over the millennia. (He saw some bubbles when the scientists had a celebratory drink and used glacial ice in their whiskey.) When he saw the bubbles, he had an epiphany. He refined that thought into an easily understood and accessible science.

There are interesting bits contained in this documentary: See how the Russians use kerosene for their drills and vodka for altitude poisoning. See how the Americans surprised him after not one, but two (!) cargo planes exploded at takeoff. See how the international community of scientists can look beyond politics in the name of pure science.

Just be prepared to be a bit patient. Oh yes, he says C02 causes global warming. But here in Seattle, he was preaching to the choir. As you can tell, I was in the minority because the press screening audience found this one to be spectacularly good... ...yawn...


Chile and Argentina (English captions) submitted this award-winning entry to the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival for it's North American Premiere. Writer/director Pepa San Martín brings us a pair of school-age sisters who are being competently raised by their mother and her lesbian companion. Shared custody happily sends them to their father's house with his new wife on a regular basis.

Children cope with divorce a variety of ways, and it looks to me as though these two girls are as undamaged as it is possible to be. In fact, one of the girl's classmates says, "I wish MY parents would separate!" Because both parents are settled into new relationships, there is very little conflict...until the older girl's behavior is misinterpreted by the parents and our story turns into a custody battle.

The cast:
  • Julia Lübbert as Sara, is a sensible teenager showing judgment beyond her years. She is however, saddled with a pesky little sister and a bit of a hormonal storm.
  • Emilia Ossandon is (I think) that pesky little sister, Cata. She loves animals, such as stray cats and the occasional hedgehog (trust me!).
  • Mariana Loyola and Agustina Muñoz are the girls' businesswoman mother and her veterinarian partner.
  • Daniel Muñoz and Michaele Cristi round out the cast as the girls' father and his new wife.
The movie has such a deliberate pace it seems to last longer than 92 minutes, but it has other things to recommend it. Above all, the authenticity of the scenes and the characters struck me: The evening meal includes setting the table and washing up afterwards, the before-school morning chaos, the sibling squabbles, the adolescent rebellion, the schoolyard dynamics and the friendships.

We are reminded how powerless children are as they contend with the adult world. Sara is simply a normal teenager doing normal teenage things. The sad thing is, the adults perceive her behavior through the filters of their own personal issues. Thus the conflict. If she had enjoyed the good fortune to be the third or fourth child, the adults would recognize how normal and grounded she really is! ...sigh...



The 2016 Seattle International Film Festival screening audience was transported to Istanbul, Turkey (English captions) to view a documentary about the cats who have populated the city for centuries. The citizens think their cats jumped off sailing ships that came from Norway.

Director Ceyda Torun has captured a fascinating series of profiles that feature cats and the people who share their city. I expected to see a film about feral cats, but all of these cats are socialized. In fact, they have a proprietary attitude about their city. The people seem to be there to serve THEM! The cats expect to be fed and petted, and then LEFT ALONE.

We become familiar with a number of unique cats, see their personalities in action and hear their stories from the people who care for them. The photography is amazing, the editing is wonderful and the script is entertaining. We learn that not all the cats are sweet, in fact, one is described as "the neighborhood psychopath," but he doesn't lack for fans who are more than willing to provide the tough love he demands. We see one female defend her territory and drive some flirty intruder away from her mate while a cowed dog huddles between his owner's legs.

Expect to see cats prowling, walking, strolling, running, begging, greeting boats on the river, feeding their kittens, and keeping the mouse population under control for restaurants. One woman says communicating with a cat is like communicating with an alien, but when a link is made it's "mystical." These people LOVE their cats.

By the way, during the final credit scroll, all of the cats we met are named by name! I even recognized some of them...


New Zealand submitted this unusual documentary to the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. We see a curious journalist try to discover what an "endurance tickling competition" looks like. He immediately hits fierce resistance that quickly becomes litigious. Now he's REALLY curious. We follow him first to the airport in Auckland. From there we go to Los Angeles; then Hollywood; next Garden City, Long Island, New York; Muskegon, Michigan; and Orlando, Florida. Hmmm... Curiouser and curiouser....

We watch him interview participants, all of whom were young men enticed by gifts and money. If they changed their minds, we discover the ugly surprises that awaited them. Our investigators were as surprised as we in the audience, to discover that tickling is a version of sexual fetish. Who knew? I guess it's a type of domination...

Journalists David Farrier and Dylan Reeve are our intrepid documentarians. They recorded the threats and faced the possibility of lawsuits and penalties. The more they learned, the more we were drawn into this maze of phony names, bewildering websites and the mystifying money behind the entire enterprise.

Male-on-male competitive endurance tickling competitions are an international phenomenon. To me, they weren't entertaining and the tickling looked boring, but you will discover that a predatory figurehead still backs these profitable viral videos.

I did NOT find this entertaining, although it WAS interesting.

Where Have All the Good Men Gone?

The 2016 Seattle International Film Festival was honored to host the world premiere of Denmark's small drama "Hundeliv" (English captions) to an appreciative press screening audience... Well, one fellow didn't much like it... But we saw no vehicular mayhem, no computer generated imaging, and no blowie uppie stuff, so everyone else I asked was impressed. (There ARE guns and gunshots.)

Writer/director René Frelle Petersen brings us a very young woman who longs to meet her biological father; she has just learned he may be alive. She brings her half-sister along, since both have had enough of their mother's abusive husband.

The cast:
  • Simone Lykke - We first meet Sofia working in a sausage factory. It's clear that she has to stick up for herself when the foreman tries to short her pay. It looks like most of the men in her young life are either brutes or bullies, her stepfather worst of all! She wants a man who will look her in the eye.
  • Julie Brochorst Andersen - Olivia is a naïve wild child, but after you see how her father treats her, it's no wonder. One flirty young man at the family bar, William, seems different.
  • Henning Valin Jakobsen - Lars is the stepfather we love to hate. He is arbitrary, brutal and an unfeeling bully.
  • Camilla Bendix - Kristen is too cowed by her abusive husband to defend her daughters.
  • Alexandre Willaume - Adam clearly suffers from PTSD. He has been in the military and owns quite a few weapons. The village nearby overlooks his eccentricities and doesn't bother him on his farm.
As this movie unspools, we find more and more people to root for, plus we get to watch the wildest Monopoly game EVER!

I loved this movie.


Don't Think Twice

The 2016 Seattle International Film Festival welcomed this entry from the USA. The introduction, "Let's hope and pray this one really IS a comedy," followed screenings of a "bloody grindhouse psycho thriller" and a "nightmarish creepy horror tale," on the second day of Week Three of SIFF Press Screenings. (I skipped the first two.)

Director/writer/actor Mike Birbiglia ("Sleepwalk With Me") gives us a peek into the world of Improv Comedy. This scripted dramedy features the members of a fictitious improv comedy troupe called "The Commons" which boasts six skilled members, each of whom is in the process of becoming an adult.

The cast:
  • Keegan-Michael Key ("Keanu") Jack has scene-stealing down to a science. But his attempts at loyalty have serious consequences.
  • Gillian Jacobs (Lots of TV) Samantha does voices, accents and is the MC for the troupe. "Has anyone here had a particularly bad day?"
  • Mike Birbiglia ("What I Should Have Said was Nothing") Miles finds it disconcerting to see how well some of his former students are faring.
  • Kate Micucci (Lots of TV) Allison is a pretty good improv player, but she REALLY wants to draw cartoons.
  • Tami Sagher (Lots of TV) plays Lindsay, a chronically stoned writer. This is funny because in "Real" life, Tami is a successful writer.
  • Chris Gethard (Lots of TV) Bill is distracted because his father wants to set him up with space for his troupe in a former strip club. (Their current space is scheduled for demolition.)
We come to know each of these ambitious New-York-based characters as they explore the bitterness, backstabbing, and lifelong friendships that occur behind the scenes.

I have a particular fondness for movies about show business, so I liked this one. By the way, the title comes from one of the standard rules for Improv.


Belle & Sebastian: The Adventure Continues

France submitted this film directed by Christian Duguay to the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. We had very much enjoyed "Belle et Sébastien" in the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival where we met a boy and his Great Pyrenees sheep dog who, along with courageous Basque locals helped the French Resistance smuggle Allied airmen out of France, through the Pyrenees mountains, and into Spain, where they could rejoin the war.

We settled in to see this new chapter, "Belle et Sébastien, l'aventure continue" (English captions). Now it's 1945, the war isn't quite over, but our former baker, the lovely Angélina is coming home for good. The military plane has engine failure, crashes and burns on the Italian border, some distance from where our 10-year-old hero and his dog wait for her with César. Sébastien refuses to accept that she might be dead. Thus his adventure continues...

The cast:
  • Félix Bossuet ("Belle et Sébastien") is Sébastien, still a bit headstrong, still an orphan and still accompanied by his faithful sheepdog everywhere he goes. This time he learns a bit more about his deceased mother and his absent father.
  • Tchéky Karyo ("Belle et Sébastien") is César. He's getting older, but that little newborn boy he found in the snow has become a big help with the sheep now that he's ten years old.
  • Margaux Chatelier ("Belle et Sébastien") is back as Angélina; maybe hurt, maybe dead, but they won't know until they find her. And the plane crash caused a forest fire.
  • Thierry Neuvic ("Tell No One") Pierre is called "You-Know-Who" by César. Sébastien can tell César doesn't like him, but they need his help. This guy grows on you....
  • Thylane Blondeau, a teenage model in her first movie role, brings us Gabriele, a girl who helps her injured father work in the forest. We are glad to see her so at ease in those wooded mountains.
This has plenty of excitement, some involving family issues, and some nice wildlife photography, but the most spectacular thing in my opinion, is the fabulous scenery. We see the French Alps filling in for the equally astounding Pyrenees mountains. There are breathtaking scenes with cliffs, crevasses and caves (although the forest fire is a bit lame). I liked this one, but then I'm a sucker for boys and dogs.


So have all you trendy folks investigated the Paleo diet? Have I got a surprise for YOU! According to this fascinating (but icky!) documentary from the Netherlands (in English, no captions), the main source of protein for your diet should be grubs, larvae and bugs. The 2016 Seattle International Film Festival press screening audience watched this yuck- fest - oops, I mean "This Gastronomic Adventure with Nordic Food Lab by Andreas  Johnsen" in stunned silence.

We traveled to Denmark, Kenya, Mexico, Japan, Australia, and Uganda, where our spokesmen were hosted by local folks who showed them what their people have eaten for thousands of years. Our hosts pointed out that the food Europeans are acclimated to prefer, causes obesity, cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening ailments. They are convinced we can do better.

Our hosts:
  • Ben Reade is an articulate chef with analytical taste buds. He could "taste a little macadamia nut flavor going on" in some of the larvae he ate. He is concerned that their research will show the world many new possibilities, at which time big corporations will step in and make enormous profits.
  • Josh Evans is a willing sidekick who becomes the spokesperson. Watch him reach into an ant hill with both arms covered in ants. We can see them climbing under his shirt and on his face before he starts eating them. As I said..."Yuck fest."
  • Roberto Flore looks as skeptical as I feel. He is very, very hesitant to "harvest" poisonous wasps, but like chefs everywhere, knows that with enough garlic, ginger and herbs, just about anything is edible. In my opinion, that's the secret of escargot!
Based on the speed with which sushi bars have become universally accepted in the Western hemisphere, the folks at the Nordic Food Lab are positive that other, more traditionally repulsive food will outgrow the "ick" factor and become a food source for the estimated 12 BILLION people expected to populate our earth by 2050.

The UN has recommended edible insects be investigated as a possible food source. The US has yet to decide. This one is for foodies.


Money Monster

Director Jodie Foster ("House of Cards") has trotted out an extremely timely topic for us to relate to: financial shenanigans on Wall Street which can affect us all. We see the host of "Money Monster," an entertaining TV show, suddenly taken hostage by one of the victims of his financial advice.

Foster has become a top-flight director and she has assembled a top-flight cast which is guaranteed to sell tickets and win our hearts to boot. This movie is shot almost in "real time." In other words, it takes about as long for this dramedy to run its course as the movie is long (98 minutes). I LIKE that! And make no mistake, there is as much comedy as there is drama. I like that, too.

Here they are:
  • George Clooney ("Hail, Caesar!") Television's Lee Gates thinks he's ten feet tall and bulletproof. But wait until he is confronted by a real gun! And is forced to learn some real facts. Do people really like him?
  • Julia Roberts ("The Secret in Their Eyes") Patty Fern is his technical director. Does she save lives or broadcast an incredible show? This time, she tries to do both!
  • Jack O'Connell ("Unbroken") Kyle Budwell lost everything in this latest financial "glitch." Now he wants justice or at least something that looks like it.
  • Aaron Yoo ("The Tomorrow People") Won Joon does not write code for an algorithm that contains a "glitch!"
  • Dominic West ("Genius") Walt Camby is nowhere to be found. The more we learn, the more we realize he may not WANT to be found.
  • Caitriona Balfe ("Outlander") Diane Lester is spokeswoman for Walt's company. She thinks she is telling the truth....
  • Christopher Denham ("Manhattan") Ron Sprecher has found a new product that might generate sales on the show (it's an erectile cream). His boss tells him to test it and let him know if they want to pitch the stock to their viewers.
  • Lenny Venito (Lots of TV) Lenny the cameraman has a Steady-cam that comes in handy when they leave the building.
  • Giancarlo Esposito ("The Jungle Book") Captain Powell almost has the situation under control, if only his snipers could get a clear shot!
There isn't a dull moment. Foster keeps the clock ticking, the jokes flying, the tension building and our loyalties sliding to and fro.

This is rated "R" because of language and a sexual situation. I didn't find it offensive because the language was from people under a LOT of stress and the sexual situation was actually one of the funniest scenes in the movie.

Our screening audience had a blast!

The Violin Teacher

Brazil submitted "Tudo Que Aprendemos Juntos" (English captions), an award-winning entry to the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. Based on a true story, we see a classically trained violin maestro accept a temporary position with the city of Heliopolis to teach music to some teens from the favelas (shantytowns).

Director Sérgio Machado brings us an appealing cast to tell a story about a group of would-be musicians trying to play on school-provided instruments, even though they haven't learned how to read music yet. They are defiant and unruly (they call him "Obama"). Our former child prodigy is out of his depth...

The cast:
  • Lázaro Ramos - Laerte knows music, but he certainly does NOT understand children who have grown up in this environment.
  • Kaique Jesus - Samuel has talent and he knows right from wrong.
  • Elzio Vieira - VR has picked up a risky "trade" to make ends meet.
  • Sandra Corveloni - Alzira is principal of this public high school. She is generous and eager to see her students embrace music.
  • Fernanda De Freitas - Bruna starts by singing a bawdy version of "Twinkle, twinkle little star.
This one has all the components, a dedicated musician on hard times, appealing teenagers we want to see set straight, lovely music, a success story, and an interesting cityscape. One riot was inexplicably accompanied by a classical piano piece, but all in all, it was nicely done; it just didn't "grab" me like I expected. I didn't dislike it, but I wasn't transported.


The Olive Tree

Spain and Germany submitted "El Olivo" (English captions) to the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. I can't decide if it is a romance, a road movie, a family film or a travelogue, but whatever it is, I enjoyed every minute. It starts in a chicken hatchery, stops in Dusseldorf, Germany, before heading back to a massive olive grove in Spain. (Our central family raises chickens and sells olive oil.)

Director Icíar Bollaín has assembled a terrific cast to tell screenwriter Paul Laverty's story:
  • Anna Castillo - Alma has been Grandpa's little girl all her life. Through a clever montage, we see how close they are (she puts lipstick on him when she's about five) and she understands how important a 2000-year-old olive tree is to him.
  • Manuel Cucala is Alma's abuelo. They used to hang out by the tree as he told her about how old it is and how important it as a family heritage. Even though he adores his granddaughter, he hasn't spoken in 12 years, ever since his son sold it. He has that 1000-foot stare...
  • Javier Gutiérrez - Alcachofa is her uncle. He seems to be the family whipping boy and Alma isn't above picking on him with prank phone calls and tricking him into a trip to Germany. He can't stand lies or liars.
  • Pep Ambros - Handsome Rafa is a long-time friend who would like to be more to Alma. He is loyal and easily manipulated by her... not fooled, but manipulated...
  • Miguel Angel Aladren - Oldest son Luis has worked hard for his father all his life, so he felt justified when he sold that 2000-year-old tree to some Germans. He needed the money and didn't understand what it would do to the old man.
By the way, that tree is a significant character in this film. It is ancient, gnarled, majestic and absolutely worthy of all the attention it receives.

This outing has many humorous moments, a few exciting ones and lots of interesting observations by secondary characters. I very much enjoyed this unique film.

Midsummer in Newtown

The 2016 Seattle International Film Festival welcomed another entry from the USA. This is a documentary about the Sandy Hook school children after the horrific slaughter that took place in 2012.  It was the second deadliest mass shooting at a school by a single gunman in history. One of the executive producers is Paul Allen through his Vulcan Productions. I am so grateful to see his company is involved in such worthwhile projects.

Director Lloyd Kramer has crafted a sensitive, entertaining and educational film using interviews and filmed auditions and rehearsals as a New York director comes to Sandy Hook to test the healing power of art. His idea is to have local children perform an original musical version of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Most of the children know nothing about Shakespeare but gamely show up for auditions and are surprisingly open to learning about stage craft, the Elizabethan language, and theatre terms: "Table Read," "Off Book," "Tech Week," etc. The only professional actor is the fellow who plays "Bottom."

We come to know many of the children, their teachers, their parents and their siblings. We see what each one went through and watch them grow as they master a brand new skill and learn how satisfying a hearty round of applause can be. They are uniformly articulate, insightful and interesting. More than a few suffer from PTSD.

Sandy Hook is a leafy little Connecticut town that was chosen by more than a few families as a nice place to raise their families. Grieving parents have summoned the strength to become involved in national issues that also address violence. And they do NOT overlook the perpetrator, indeed they realize that his life must have been miserable to have been driven to such an action. 20 children and 6 adults died in that incident but the town is united in its determination to provide support and affection for everyone who lives there.

This is a keeper.



Canada and Brazil submitted this whimsical bit of convoluted nonsense to the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. No, there are no captions; it's in English. It switches between line drawings, "real" actors, and cartoons. It is liberally laced with goofy observational humor, although I think I laughed more often than most of the audience.

Director Pedro Morelli ("Entre Nos"), working from a script by Matt Hansen throws us into a chaotic story within a story within a story, although it takes a few minutes to realize what is going on.

The cast:
  • Alison Pill ("Hail, Caesar!") Emma works at a doll factory. They make life-size, custom-made dolls for all tastes and purposes. She draws cartoons and longs for larger breasts...
  • Tyler Labine ("Tucker and Dale vs Evil") Bob works with Emma. He longs for her...
  • Mariana Ximenes ("Party Crashers") Melissa is a photographer's model who wants to write a book. Wait until you figure out which characters spring from her fiction.
  • Jason Priestley ("Welcome to Sweden") Dale thinks Melissa is far too beautiful to bother with something as silly as writing a book. He wants her to throw it away.
  • Gael Garcia Bernal ("Mozart in the Jungle") Edward is a movie director who is tired of blowie uppie CGI-laden actioners. He wants to do something "artistic." We realize that he is a narcissistic cartoon and his creator punishes him by reducing the size of his "member."
  • Don McKellar ("Sensitive Skin") While Horowitz applauds "art," he knows the movie business runs on something more commercial.
  • Jennifer Irwin ("The Goldbergs") Marissa is the money behind Edward's new movie. While she agrees with Horowitz, she admires Edward.
By the time this picks up speed, your head will whirl but I think you'll laugh. I know I certainly did!


This award-winning Australian entry to the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival is based on a true story from Vanuatu (English captions), an island nation in the South Pacific that boasts a rain forest and an active volcano in its archipelago.

Directors Martin Butler and Bentley Dean directed this breathtaking look at a location and a lifestyle that is rapidly disappearing. Even though this is a scripted story based on actual events, they used NO professional actors; they cast only local people and used their names for the fictional characters. In reality, this story took place in 1987 and resulted in major changes in how the native tribes interact.

We saw:
  • Marie Wawa (Wawa) rebels when she learns she is to marry a man from an enemy tribe as a peacekeeping measure. Her brown-eyed charm has a young man in her tribe totally smitten.
  • Mungau Dain (Dain) has watched her from a nearby vantage point and it's clear that she welcomes his attention. His patrician good looks made him doubly appealing, even though he is forbidden to her.
  • Marceline Rofit If there is any justice, this is the name of the little girl who plays Wawa's younger sister Selim. She is a vital part of the story. (I can't verify it in any reference.)
  • Chief Charlie Kahla (Charlie) risks his own son's life in order to achieve peace with a traditional enemy.
The story develops at a deliberate pace (99 minutes). We see the little girl pluck two bugs from a vine; she eats one and shares the other with her companion. We see the women preparing fronds for a new skirt; Wawa has become a woman and they will celebrate. There is nudity everywhere, but it is National Geographic nudity, not Playboy! We are reminded of recent deaths due to the enemy tribe. The volcano and the terrain play important parts in this story and you should be mindful that the event this is based on is true.


Iran (English captions) submitted this wonderful documentary about a young woman who does NOT want to be sold by her father into a marriage with an older man she hasn't met. Her dream is to be a rapper!(?) Winner of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize, this unexpectedly involving story brings us a lovely immigrant who left Afghanistan with her sister and now lives in Iran. She wisely blends traditional Sharia law with an attempt to join a more modern lifestyle; e.g., even though she refuses to remove her scarf lest she shame her family, she laughingly claims Michael Jackson and Rhianna as her parents.

Directed by Rokhsareh Ghaem Magham, this is the perfect combination of humor (she loves her Justin Bieber poster) and grim reality (her school chums are being married off to older married men); she knows what she wants and is determined to figure out how to get it.

We watch:
  • Rap rehearsals with a male friend (thank goodness for those captions);
  • Worried chats with her sister about being evicted because the rent is overdue;
  • A friendly visit from her mom which becomes something else;
  • Conversations with a social worker who wants to help but can't alienate the government;
  • Her risky trip to Kabul to get her birth certificate and then, she HOPES, a passport.
A couple of the subplots were summarily dropped but they didn't hurt the main arc of the story. I absolutely LOVED her "Bride For Sale" rap (she has a bar code on her forehead).

I recommend this one.


Sunset Song

The United Kingdom submitted this entry to the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. This highly acclaimed film takes place in Scotland and yes! It has closed captions. Writer/director Terence Davies ("House of Mirth") based his screenplay on Lewis Grassic Gibbon's 1932 novel by the same name.

With a muted canvas and notably long single-take, highly emotional scenes, we look at six years in the life of a peasant farm family before and just after the carnage of World War I. Life was hard, particularly for the women, who had no control over their lives.

  • Agyness Deyn ("Hail, Caesar!") is Chris Guthrie, a studious young woman who wants to become a school teacher. Her father is a despot, her mother is a slave and her life doesn't turn out like she expects. This actress does a spectacular job!
  • Peter Mullan ("Olive Kitteridge") is her father John Guthrie. He never allows anyone to question his authority, he just wields it! Any time he is on screen, we hold our breath because we know he can be arbitrary and cruel with no warning.
  • Kevin Guthrie (Lots of TV) Ewan Tavendale falls for Chris the moment he lays eyes on her. World War I upsets their idyllic life together.
  • Jack Greenlees ("Penny Dreadful") is her brother Will. Even as a grown man, he still yields to his father's authority and submits to a whipping on command.
The period detail is impressive: the clothes they wear, the interior of the house, and the tools they use, are all authentic. The pace is glacial, but I don't think I would want it any other way. I had a big problem with the wheat field though. In every scene, regardless of what time of year is depicted, the wheat is ripe, fully bearded, and ready for harvest. Aarghhh!

Closet Monster

Here is another entry to the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival from Canada. Directed by Stephen Dunn ("We Wanted More"), our press screening audience found this unsettling, funny and of pretty good quality.

We follow a creative boy from grade school to his teen years; see what events have influenced his thinking, follow the breakup of his parents' marriage, and watch "Buffy," a remarkably long-lived hamster who is his "spirit animal."

We follow:
  • Jack Fulton is young Oscar. After a particularly upsetting bedtime story and a bad experience in a graveyard, he starts carrying a stake so he can fight off vampires (you noticed the name of his pet hamster)
  • Connor Jessup is teenaged Oscar, a would-be make-up artist who just wants to get into a New York specialty school and leave his home town with its horrific memories behind. He's confused about many things and the people around him don't help!
  • Aaron Abrams is his father. Macho Peter is a capable carpenter (see that tree house!) who loves his son, but there are those ghost stories, and there is his temper....
  • Joanne Kelly is his mother Brin, who leaves. After the divorce, they share custody and Oscar is resentful of both.
  • Aliocha Schneider plays Wilder, a co-worker at a big-box store. He is handsome, appealing and right THERE!
  • Sofia Banzhaf gives Gemma just the right balance of playful, sexy and a good model for his outrageous designs. Just what Oscar needs.
  • Isabella Rossellini voices Buffy, Oscar's chatty pet hamster. She is observant, wary and loyal.
This threatened to be one of those hide-your-eyes movies, but I was relieved to note the worst sights are hidden from view. Whew!

The "If" Project

A Seattle cop runs into an idea initiated by a woman in a maximum-security prison. The woman wondered how her life and the lives of her fellow inmates could have been different "If" (only). The project which resulted asks the prisoners to write essays about "If" and share their stories.

Director Kathlyn Horan has filmed this documentary in western Washington state, taping interviews, filming classes, and recording many of the inmates essays which are the result. This is an entry for the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival.

We see:
  • Kim Bogucki, the Seattle police detective. When she started the project, she was a cop but instantly recognized the potential in allowing the inmates to express their views, share their stories, and encourage them to support one another.
  • Renata Abramson was the original spark plug. She grew up hating cops and blamed them for the ruin her life had become. Over the years, she and Officer Bogucki became close friends and we are with her when she is released (with an ankle bracelet).
  • Tiffany Doll is emphatic about the positive changes in her life. She is funny, attractive, and excited to be getting a reduced sentence. She insists she is (mostly) innocent and thought she had been fooling her son about her drug dealing. He knew all along.
  • Angela Vargas has served most of her sentence, and over the extended period of time this was being filmed, finally gained her freedom.
  • LaKeisha "KeWee" Hamilton is the oldest child in a large family. Both parents are in prison so she was responsible for her younger siblings. She is the first to graduate from high school in four generations. She mostly feels guilt for letting down her siblings. 
We see and hear many other stories and only wonder how some of those women even stayed alive, to say nothing of became a felon. These gals are articulate, mature (they own their personal behavior), and miss their families, particularly their children. Their essays show great insight.

We see the ups and downs for these women over time and, like Officer Bogucki, have to accept a few setbacks. This is an ongoing project and is no longer limited to women only. It is being used in other prisons and in schools.



Switzerland and Cuba collaborated on this entry to the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. Billed as an "observational documentary," I found this one to be just a tad overwrought: too many lingering scenes of a person walking, super-close closeups of a person thinking, scenic shots of clouds scudding across the skyline. . .

Because it is about ballet dancers, much of the focus is on feet and legs: bloody blisters, doctor's visits, flexibility training, etc., but it is also about discipline: not only adherence to training instructions and schedules, but the self control not to talk back when one's patience must surely be taxed.

We are with la gran dama of The National Ballet of Cuba, Alicia Alonzo, who continues to instruct, despite being blind for decades. Her students and assistants are endlessly patient and respectful of her blunt style but we can see she knows every note of every ballet.  She had successful surgery a few years back, but it is clear that she is, once again, blind. At the time of the filming (2015), she was 94.

We see numerous clips from her youth, doing endless pirouettes, taking slow-motion curtain calls, appearing in "This is Your Life" on American television and accepting honors bestowed on her by Fidel Castro for her unwavering dedication to Communism.

In addition, we see one student, Amanda de Jesus Perez Duarte preparing for an audition to the corps and a budding prima ballerina, Viengsay Valdez preparing for her lead role in "Swan Lake." As a bonus, we also see a couple of clips of her rehearsing "Coppélia."

I found the camera work to be a bit too "artistic," and the pace to be wearying; I DID however, enjoy some of the ballet and I always appreciate it when updates about the principals are included in the closing credits. Thanks!


Presenting Princess Shaw

This 2017 Seattle International Film Festival documentary from Israel didn't accomplish what I think it intended. We watch a narcissistic young Louisiana woman (Samantha Montgomery, aka Princess Shaw) chat incessantly about herself into her cell phone, posting her immortal words and a few self-written songs on social media.

What she doesn't realize is that Kutiman, a young fellow in Israel, has spotted the potential in her a cappella songs and sets out to make arrangements for them.

As we become acquainted with her compelling back story (she was an abused child) and see her struggle with life (she works in a nursing home), we watch him in Tel Aviv performing his magic on her simple tunes and posting his brilliant results on YouTube. She is thunderstruck.

If this sounds more appealing to you than it was to me, by all means treat yourself to some home movies and thwarted musical ambitions.

How Most Things Work

"Como funcionan casi todas las cosas" (English captions) is an entry to the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. Submitted by Argentina, I suspect that this award-winning film (Best Director: Fernando Salem - Mar del Plata Film Festival; Best Actress: Verónica Gerez - Las Palmas Film Festival) might be one of those Mars/Venus conflicts where women love it and men liken it to watching paint dry.

Personally, I was so impressed by the quality of both the directing and the acting, I didn't bother to look around to check the reactions of the men in our SIFF screening audience. Written and directed by Fernando Salem with writing assistance from Esteban Garelli, we are in a remote section of Argentina where we join a young toll-booth attendant. The road where she works has been replaced, so there is very little traffic. Her co-worker works crossword puzzles while she helps. When her father dies, she gets a job selling a book called "How Most Things Work." She plans to save her money so she can go to Italy where her opera-singing mother lives.

We watch:
  • Verónica Gerez is Celina, our restless heroine.
  • Pilar Gamboa is Raquel, her sales training instructor.
  • Rafael Spregelburd is Goldberg, her soon-deceased father.
  • Vicente Esquerre is Brian, Raquel's petulant son (he wants a dog!).
As the two women hit the road in a marginally dependable car, you can expect more than a few stops along the way. To while away the time, our would-be sales professional gets expert advice from her instructor as the boy sulks in the back seat. They find a dog that seems to be linked to a failed NASA moon shot, which delights Brian and causes a bit of alarm in the adults.

Each actress does a low-key monologue that is both moving and memorable. I'm Team Venus with this one.

Captain America: Civil War

Is this a new trend? Having superheros fight other superheros? In March we had "Batman vs Superman" and now this... If you want to see good guys battle other good guys, get "Rustlers' Rhapsody," at least THAT is billed as a comedy! Like "B vs S," the issue once again is collateral damage. 117 countries are signing an agreement that exerts bureaucratic control over The Avengers and their violent activities.

Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo ("Captain America"), this PG-13 non-stop (but top-heavy) actioner is designed to make us examine our loyalties. Personally, I like Captain America's straight-forward outlook; Iron Man's knee-jerk reaction seems abrupt. Yeah, I'm Team Rogers...

Here is a small part of the massive cast:
  • Chris Evans ("The Iceman") Steve Rogers/Captain America is a military man. He is accustomed to taking risks and accepting responsibility for collateral damage.
  • Robert Downey Jr. ("Sherlock Holmes") Tony Stark/Iron Man has been a rebel from the get-go. Why should he change now? Because he has just met a grieving mother who puts a face on the collateral damage.
  • Alfre Woodard ("State of Affairs") is that grieving mother.
  • Scarlett Johansson ("Hail, Caesar!") Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow understands their conflict, but she doesn't have to like it!
  • Sebastian Stan ("The Martian") Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier has NO choice in the matter. His programming by Hydra is so deep he can't trust himself.
  • Anthony Mackie ("Triple 9") Sam Wilson/Falcon can't avoid this one but we all remember how he met Captain America, so we aren't surprised to see which side he is on.
  • Don Cheadle ("The Guard") Lieutenant James Rhodes/War Machine has been with Tony Stark from the beginning and has no regrets.
  • Chadwick Boseman ("42") T'Challa/Black Panther was a surprise!
  • Jeremy Renner ("American Hustle") Clint Barton/Hawkeye just wants to stay completely out of the whole mess. He is trying to be retired!
  • Tom Holland ("The Impossible" he was the teenager who saved his mom after a tsunami) Peter Parker/Spider-Man is a smart-mouthed geek, busy trying to do heroic stuff of his own design. His dialogue is funny and his initial exchange with Iron Man is engaging, witty and welcome.
When our superheroes are told to stand down, guess who follows orders and who doesn't? When I said "top-heavy" I really meant it. There is no face you see that you don't recognize. Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Hope Davis, John Slattery, Marisa Tomai, Alfre Woodard, Daniel Brühl, Emily VanCamp, Chadwick Boseman, Martin Freeman, William Hurt and John Kani.  Every character is a star but the only one who gets a vocal response from the audience is Marvel's own beloved Stan Lee, who, once again, nails the funniest line in the entire movie. We LOVE the guy!

The audience, dominated by 18-24 year-old men, was appreciative and happy. I'm not an 18-24-year-old male, so I became bored with the endless fisticuffs, gunfire and blowie uppie stuff. This one will make a LOT of money because Marvel's characters are familiar, attractive and superhuman.

By the way, this brand new Spider-Man provides very welcome comic relief and I personally enjoyed this change of pace in a movie so heavily laden with CGI.
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Let's try this link:
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The Violators

This entry from the UK was screened on the first press day for the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. It is clear from the very beginning that writer/director Helen Walsh is going to make our heroine earn every bit of happiness that she can wring from her misbegotten life.

We watch:
  • Lauren McQueen (Lots of TV) Shelly is half of a mis-matched pair of teenagers who are on a collision course. She is trying to look out for her little brother, Jerome, while stealing and swindling enough to keep them fed and clothed. This lovely young actress looks so much like Kristen Stewart ("Twilight") it's spooky!
  • Brogan Ellis ("Waterloo Road") Rachel confused me. Is she a stalker? Is she a defiant teenager? Is she a troublemaker? Wait until you find out!
  • Stephen Lord (Lots of TV) Mikey spells trouble for BOTH girls.
  • Derek Barr (Lots of TV) Andy is trying to be a protective big brother to Shelly and Jerome. If only their abusive father would stay in jail!
  • Liam Ainsworth ("Marvellous") Keiran lives right across the street from our little group of siblings. He can fix bicycles so Jerome likes him!
I try to avoid bleak stories in harsh environments, so this one didn't appeal to me as much as it did to other SIFF members. I had a problem with a destitute young lady who could afford marijuana, fingernail polish, great jackets and lots of makeup. I know, I know... Picky...


The 2016 Seattle International Film Festival welcomed this wonderful film from Spain and Argentina; it features one of my favorite Argentinian actors plus a doleful Mastiff named "Truman."

This third film presented for our press screenings was a huge hit. It has comedy, pathos, lovely scenery and is a sort of "road" movie. There is a huge issue at the center of this plot and I can't tell you what it is or it would be a spoiler.

We joined:
  • Javier Camára ("Talk to Her") Our hero Tomás has heard some important news and leaves his wife and family in Canada to visit his long-time friend in Spain. They had been chums in their youth
  • Ricardo Darin ("Wild Tales") Julian is the friend whom our hero goes to visit. He has confronted a life-changing issue and made up his mind.
  • Dolores Fonzi ("The Film Critic") Paula is smack dab in the middle of the issue. She doesn't agree with Julian but his decision is set and she can't get him to budge.
  • Alex Brendemühl ("Twice Upon a Time in the West") is the veterinario. His wonderful face registers all of the reactions we in the audience feel.
  • Javier Gutiérrez ("The Olive Tree") Asesor funeraria has to find out if Julian prefers burial or a cremation. See, I can't tell you any more....
  • Oriol Pla ("All the Ways of God") Julian's son Nico will have his birthday in a day or so. His father shouldn't overlook it.
  • Troilo (In his first starring role) Truman, our eponymous mastiff, is a beloved pet. His human Julian cherishes him and wants to make sure his life goes on as smoothly as possible.
There are so many surprises I hesitate to tell you very much for fear that I'll do spoilers without meaning to. Just see this one, okay?

Concerto - A Beethoven Journey

This documentary from the U.K. was the first press screening for the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. We follow Leif Ove Andsnes, a Scandinavian concert pianist as he devotes four years to delving into the works of Beethoven. The film is directed by Phil Grabsky.

I noticed several things:
  • The editing is brilliant, what we see is also what we hear. This is far more challenging than it sounds!
  • We visited concert halls all over the world, from an intimate little place that seated about 100, to Disney Hall in Los Angeles.
  • The orchestras were, for the most part, young, lively, photogenic and extremely capable.
  • We enjoyed the formal portraits of Beethoven that advanced from a youthful, optimistic young man, to his much darker, solemn (and deaf) maturity. (He died in his fifties.)
  • We heard excerpts from letters he wrote over the years that describe his mood, the creative process and provide insight into the man.
  • I spotted at least three different concert masters (and mistresses) during the course of this four-year journey all over the world.
This one is for lovers of piano, music, and Beethoven. Not necessarily in that order.