The Legend of Tarzan

No sooner have Tarzan and Jane become accustomed to civilization, when Lord Greystoke is suddenly called from his English estate to go back to his jungle home. He quickly learns it's actually to stop the King of Belgium from secretly enslaving his friends.

Director David Yates ("Harry Potter") using extravagant "re-imagining" of this oft-told tale, once again taps into the money tree that Edgar Rice Burroughs planted in 1912 with "Tarzan of the Apes." My father read the Tarzan series when he was a child and they left an indelible mark (yeah, I read them too). Generations of readers have followed and numerous movie versions have graced the silver screen. This time, we get Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgård as our eponymous hero and we meet a smashing new Jane.

Our cast:
  • Alexander Skarsgård ("What Maisie Knew" which BTW, is great!) Lord Greystoke must divest himself of those tiresome London suits and revert to his own skin (YEAH!) in order to fit in with his old friends. What Tarzan discovers back in the Congo is tragic.
  • Margot Robbie ("Whiskey Tango Foxtrot") American Jane Porter is exactly what we want in our hero's mate: she is strong, brave, and pretty, plus she loves her man and her home (Africa). She doesn't much like England and insists he take her along when he is summoned.
  • Samuel L. Jackson ("The Hateful Eight") Civil War veteran George Washington Williams does exactly what he set out to do: convince Tarzan to help him stop human trafficking. Now he has to try to keep up! Both Williams and Porter are VERY American in a refreshing and likable way.
  • Christoph Waltz ("Django") Captain Rom sees things his own way ...period! He advises the King of Belgium on how to maximize those profitable exports from the Belgian Congo.
  • Kjimon Hounsou ("Furious 7") Chief Mbonga insists Tarzan must die to atone for a long-ago tragedy. He is a sworn enemy.
I looked up exports from the Belgian Congo and could find no historical reference to slavery or diamonds, so either this was artistic license or the official cover-up was spectacularly effective.

With a PG-13 script, you can expect lots of violence, a few swear words, some romance, gunshots and implied torture. My biggest issue was with the CGI-loaded battling between the apes and Tarzan. It seemed to be an Alpha male thing, but maybe not... Needless to say, I was in CGI overload long before the rest of the rapt audience. We saw it in 3D which was effective in a couple of scenes. As I always say, I'm there for the story, so 3D is wa$ted on me. For those of you who like it, you should be happy. For me, I liked the story because I had people to root for.
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Here is a trailer:
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Swiss Army Man

Is this some kind of joke? If so, most of us didn't find it very funny, because we were subjected to a lengthy R-rated treatise on the Etiquette of Farting. Sad-sack actor Paul Dano ("Prisoners") plays a suicidal man, lost in the wilderness. He ends up schlepping a corpse with him. I can't tell you what the corpse does (other than fart) without being accused of divulging spoilers, so...

Writers/directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert ("My Best Friend's Wedding") have cobbled together an unusual twosome which defies all convention (life after life?), convinces us we are witnessing insanity (playing "Let's pretend"), and breaks all natural laws (when and how did he shave?). I know. I know. Picky, picky.

The cast:
  • Paul Dano ("Love & Mercy") is Hank, alienated from his friends and family for reasons that we found obscure and confusing, stranded on a rocky island humming the theme from "Jurassic Park." He is preparing to hang himself, but he doesn't want to die alone. He spots a corpse floating onto the beach which he retrieves for companionship.
  • Daniel Radcliff ("Harry Potter") Manny may be dead, but he is the "Swiss Army Man" of the title. He interacts with our hero in his own unique way (starting with those farts).
As the situation became more and more bizarre, the more and more I found myself disliking it. Making this movie was evidently a blast for the actors. It's too bad they thought their audience would be equally diverted. The R-rated script treated us to whimsy, profanity, insanity and absolutely the most inane, illogical plot I've seen in years. If YOU can make sense out of it, please tell me what happened!

Full disclosure: One man in the screening audience said he thought it was "funny."
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See for yourself
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Live Flesh

This 1997 movie starts with a VERY young Penélope Cruz in labor. She is a working prostitute and this is just one of the hazards of her job. I had first heard of "Carne trémula" (English captions) when it was recommended to a student who was studying Spanish. He was very impressed and passed the tip along to me. I not only liked the movie, I bought the DVD right away!

Acclaimed Spanish writer/director Pedro Almodóvar (Oscar for "Hable con ella" ["Talk to Her"]) plus over 100 other international wins, has crafted an involving, unpredictable, R-rated story of crime, passion, betrayal and redemption.

His cast:
  • Penélope Cruz ("Volver") only appears in the opening scene, but her baby is born on a city bus, so she and the baby have lifetime bus passes. The pass and that baby soon show up in the movie.
  • Liberto Rabal ("Arrayan") Victor is that baby, now grown to a poverty-stricken young adulthood, fresh from his first sexual encounter, using his bus pass to try and find that adventurous young woman.
  • Francesca Neri ("Hannibal") is Elena, that gorgeous but fickle young woman. Wealthy, self-indulgent (drugs), and wary of poverty-stricken young men (other than briefly); she calls the cops when Victor shows up at her door.
  • Javier Bardem ("Skyfall") is David, one of the two cops who respond to Elena's call. This will be a life-changing moment in David's life!
  • José Sancho ("Talk to Her") is Sancho, the other cop. He's a bit distracted because he's having trouble at home.
  • Ángela Molina (Lots of Spanish TV) Clara is that trouble. She hates Sancho's heavy drinking and wants a divorce. His reaction is brutal.
As you will see, Victor is soon in jail. Instead of allowing himself to become a hardened thug, he launches a self-help regimen which includes working out, studying the Bible and doing lots of additional reading. Now he has a plan... Watch him put it into action as soon as he has served his sentence.

This is another time you will be impressed with Javier Bardem. He is so convincing in later scenes, you will go back and check on him in earlier ones.

I found myself switching loyalties as the story progressed. I discovered that I had not one, but two people to root for. And that's a good thing! I had to replace my DVD because someone didn't return the first one. Aarghhh!
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No trailer on IMDb
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Spy Time

What a great way to wrap up the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival: A Golden Space Needle Award to Best Director Javier Ruiz Caldera for his delightful "Anacleto: Agente secreto" (English captions). Submitted by Spain, this award-winning comedy has it all: scenery, vehicular mayhem, appealing actors, drama, romance, humor, gunfire and a bit (or two) of blowie uppie stuff.

Caldera's cast:
  • Imanol Arias ("Paper Birds" which I HIGHLY recommend!) is Anacleto, super spy, always impeccably dressed, cool, impossibly capable and, unlike his role model James Bond, a loving father. (You didn't see THAT coming, did you!)
  • Quim Gutiérrez ("The Last Days") is Adolfo, his slacker son. Adolfo has a job with a security firm, but we quickly realize his heart isn't in it. He hasn't even bothered to get a driver's license.
  • Alexandra Jiménez - Katia is a doctor who finds her relationship with Adolfo has become too boring. She feels like his mother, not his lover, so she has taken a job as a medico far, far away.
  • Berto Romero - Martin is Adolfo's best friend, but he always forgets Adolfo is allergic to nuts.
  • Carlos Areces - Every hero needs a good villain: Vázquez is perfect. Long ago, our hero captured him, so he has spent the past 30 years stewing in prison; he's packing a grudge.
The opening sequence is shot in an area that looks like South Dakota's Badlands, even though we know it's Spain. When our hero finally arrives at spy headquarters in Barcelona, we laugh at the tacky effects of budget cuts!

Our movie-loving audience loved the secret passwords and snickered at the references to American films, like "Lethal Weapon" and "Die Hard." We smiled at our hero's cover job (he delivers for a delicatessen), and we also chortled at the young couple's apartment with their furniture by Ikea. In fact, a hex-head key (Allen wrench) has a big impact!

I can't find a general release date, so all I can do is recommend that you watch your entertainment pages. By the time that happens, you will have forgotten what I said, so there won't be any spoilers. I promise you won't be disappointed.
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There is no trailer, sorry.
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Mouth to Mouth

When I watched "Boca a Boca" (English captions) twenty years ago, it was the first I realized that Oscar-winner Javier Bardem ("No Country for Old Men") could do comedy. He plays an unemployed actor who has his bike stolen while he is delivering a pizza. After auditioning in vain for months (casting directors are a heartless breed!) he decides to go back home. His agent begs him to stay in Barcelona for just one more audition; it's the "role of a lifetime!" and it will happen in just two weeks.

Director Manual Gómez Pereira swings his actors between farce, romance and violence (yeah, a few gunshots) as a hired killer tries to "off" one of our hero's clients. Wait until you see where he found a job!

Our cast:
  • Javier Bardem ("The Sea Inside") is Victor, ambitious but broke. A casting director has demeaned him one too many times with a ridiculous audition ('Make 'em Laugh' from "Singin' in the Rain" in English!) and he just wants to go home. Now he has agreed to survive for two more weeks.
  • Aitana Sanchez-Gijon ("The Machinist") Gorgeous Amanda knows all the right moves and Victor loves every one of them! But wait a minute...whose wife is she?
  • Josep Maria Flotats (This was the last movie he made) Bill is Victor's customer. Or is he Ricardo, Amanda's husband? Maybe he would be safer back in the closet...
With an R rating, expect sexual situations, some profanity and a gunshot or two. I have re-watched this comedy several times over the years and I am always happy to see Bardem in a comedy. He has done award-winning roles many times since he made this one, but they are all so GRIM! Here, each new plot twist is a surprise to Victor and to us, but it all gets sorted out...kinda....

I really like this one and have owned the DVD for years.
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Here is a short teaser:
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The Coop

Turkey submitted "Kümes" (English captions) as a World Premiere to the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. We join a four-child family in a quiet, 1950s, mountain village. The wife develops fatal tuberculosis and goes away to die at a sanitarium. She tells her husband she has found a young, infertile woman for him to marry who can help him raise their children.

Six months later she has been miraculously cured and sent back to her village. Then things get interesting, as the women must establish a pecking order.

Actor/director Ufuk Bayraktar has assembled this award-winning cast:
  • Ufuk Bayraktar plays Suleyman, the husband and father who suddenly finds himself alone. He really DOES need help so he starts negotiations. The bride price is a bit more than he can afford, but...
  • Hasibe Eren - Saniye made her suggestion out of concern for her children but when she comes back home, she can't help but resent that new (younger) wife.
  • Selen Domaç - Hayriye quickly bonds with the infant girl Saniye had to leave behind. When she is healed and returns, Hayriye doesn't want to give up that baby.
Subsistence farming looks like a lot of back-breaking work! When you see the tools and techniques they used in the 1950s, you can only hope things are better today! The title comes from the chickens they have in and around their home. One has quit laying so the husband says they will eat it because there is no point in feeding it. Things are pretty basic at this level.

All of the characters feel authentic, the production design is invisible and because we are seeing unknown faces, this seems real from beginning to end. That includes that skirmish over the pecking order. Very real; very impressive!

Chicken People

Director Nicole Lucas Haimes ("Cracking the Code") submitted this documentary from the US to the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. It introduces us to the breeders and hobbyists who dedicate a significant portion of their lives to competitive poultry breeding. You will see some amazing specimens! (Both human and fowl.)

These folks have chickens vying for Best of Show:
  • Brian Caraker - this entertainer works at Branson, MO, but his heart is back home with his chickens. His parents do their best, but these are HIS chickens!
  • Brian Knox - here is a race car mechanic who was directed to poultry breeding when he was 11 years old. Decades later, he still loves it and is still in touch with his mentor. His approach to improving the breeds is as meticulous as his mechanics.
  • Shari McCollough - this former alcoholic has switched her compulsive-addictive tendencies from alcohol to chickens. Now she is sober, happy, and competing with the best! Watch her shampoo and fluff her chickens! You almost forget how they must smell.
Scheduled for the Ohio National Poultry Competition, the largest poultry competition in the country; it is likened to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. There will be 9,700 birds representing 154 breeds. We see how the breeders use cosmetics, hair spray and unusual grooming techniques for a chance to win.

By the way, an outbreak of Bird Flu caused a change of venue for the 2015 show, but our three principals made it to the new location.

Middle Man

Did you laugh at the Coen brothers' bloody black comedy "Fargo" in 1996? If so, you would enjoy this world premiere of "Middle Man" from the USA. We screened it today for the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival and I thought it was a hoot! (I loved "Fargo," too.)

Writer/director Ned Crowley brings us a black, black comedy of errors as we watch a CPA take early retirement after his mother's death. He sets out in a classic Oldsmobile (with a BIG trunk!) heading from the Midwest for Las Vegas where he will pursue his life-long dream of being a stand-up comic. He has an assortment of tapes that feature Burns & Allen, Martin & Lewis, Abbott & Costello...you know...OLD!

His cast:
  • Jim O'Heir ("Parks & Recreation") Lenny has no idea what today's stand-up comedy looks or sounds like. He can lip sync all the old classics though... This poor loser is a schlub who can be bullied.
  • Andrew J. West (LOTS of TV) Hitch scares us right away, but Lenny is easily bluffed, so against his better judgment Hitch becomes his manager. The resemblance between Andrew West and Ryan Gosling is spooky.
  • Josh McDermitt ("The Walking Dead") T-Bird does raunchy stand-up at the first little hole-in-the-wall place they find. He has a posse of supporters.
  • Brandon Van Vleet (LOTS of TV) T-Bird's friend is the first heckler poor inexperienced Lenny has ever encountered. That could be a problem.
  • Anne Dudek ("Covert Affairs") Grail is a sweet waitress who tries to help Lenny. (Her name was a typo on her birth certificate.)
  • Chad Donella (LOTS of TV) Officer Flick is a friend of show biz. You can tell by his impressions: Al Pacino, John Wayne, Bogie...you know...
The difference between Lenny's first attempt at stand-up and his second one is the heart and soul of this movie. Audience perception is key!

Fatty Arbuckle said: No price is too high to pay for a good laugh. Well, our hero is about to find out.


The Scent of Mandarin

The North American Premiere of "L'odeur de la mandarine" (English captions), is an adult love story from France. Our 2016 Seattle International Film Festival screening audience saw a romance designed for grownups, because it included a mating scene with horses, quite a bit of nudity and definitely required mature understanding of human nature.

Writer/director Gilles Legrand ("Micmacs") gives us two intelligent, witty, sophisticated adults who are dealing with the effects of World War I, which periodically is heard in the distance over the course of the movie.

Our cast:
  • Olivier Gourmet - Charles has lost a leg in the war and is trying to get his painful wound to heal. He hires a nurse to change the dressings and help with his therapy. He owns a successful farm in the French countryside.
  • Georgia Scalliet - Angèle arrives at his front door complete with her young daughter Louise, and a broken heart. She is a clear-thinking woman who loves to negotiate...AND she loves horses!
  • Marine Vallée - Louise comes home from her first day at school with head lice. This problem seems intractable so she is convinced that they are "German lice!"
  • Hélène Vincent - Emile was once Charles' wet nurse but has stayed on and worked as his family's housekeeper all of his life.
  • Dimitri Storoge - Léonard is Emile's brother. He too, has worked for Charles all of his life.
  • Michel Robin - Le curé conducts the funniest wedding I have seen in ages!
  • Fred Ulysse - Fermin shows up with an elegant black stallion. His story seems lame but Charles is reluctant to send a young man back to the war front.
Both of the lead characters have complex stories and react to situations in a very real way. This isn't billed as a comedy, but these people are witty; the dialogue is delicious and I smiled from beginning to end.

This is worthwhile. By the way, Mandarine is the name of a workhorse.


"L'acopció" (English captions as needed) is a wonderful drama which enjoyed its North American Premiere at the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. Submitted by Spain and Lithuania, it illustrates the fears and frustrations involved when trying to adopt a child from another country.

Writer/director Daniela Fejerman seems to know what she's talking about. I can't think of a thing she missed, from health concerns of the baby to legal entanglements with birth families, we watch a middle-aged Spanish couple bilked, taxed and lied to, AFTER their luggage is lost at the airport! What a way to start!

Her cast:
  • Nora Navas is Natalia, anxious about the procedure and eager have a child in her arms.
  • Francesc Garrido is Daniel, he too, wants a child but is skeptical after they catch the third lie.
  • Larisa Kalpokaite - Lila is the adoption agent, the translator, and the  spokesman for the various people involved in this transaction. She is a bit too smooth and too reassuring. It's hard to trust her...
  • Jordi Banacolocha is Natalia's father. They have been estranged, but now she needs some help. The reference he has provided may or may not be helpful.
  • Jurij Scuckij - Finally, this Abuelo (grandfather) is key to the success or failure of the trip.
You can feel our couple's confusion and frustration as people talk and they have no idea what is being said. Everywhere they turn, there are more bribes and fees. They are assured that their luggage will turn up at any time and they will go home with one, two or three children. We share Daniel's skepticism.

There is not a moment when we aren't convinced we are seeing real people in a real location, dealing with a real desire to have a family. This is beautifully done.



This lively documentary was submitted to our 2016 Seattle International Film Festival from the USA. It is a combination of news clips, animated reenactments and radio (?!) broadcasts and centers around the (mostly) true story of Dr. J. R. Brinkley, a doctor who cured impotence and a variety of other ailments by transplanting the testicles of goats into his male patients.

Director Penny Lane ("Our Nixon") shows us how a lowly doctor in the Midwest could make a million dollars a year during the Great Depression! We also meet his wife, hear from some of his colleagues and see many of his print ads for his miracle cures. (As a side note: I noticed that one newspaper offers a one-year subscription for 50 cents.) We hear testimonials from satisfied customers, but by the time we learn he is selling autographed pictures of Jesus Christ, we start to feel just a teeny bit skeptical.

The man was a creative genius, pioneering the use of radio waves to promote products and generate loyal listeners. At one point in his life he has three yachts, several homes, a million-watt radio station in Mexico, and his wife is never photographed without a fur. He traveled extensively by airplane and love, love, loved being wealthy. You will love his political campaign for Governor!

The bane of his life was a lawyer named Morris Fishbein. Fishbein called him a "quack," and in return, he called Fishbein "fishy." See what happens when he sues Fishbein for libel! The animation is terrific, the voices are a hoot, and the whole outrageous story is assembled by a pro!

Coconut Hero

Germany submitted this charming comedy for its North American Premiere at the 2016 Seattle international Film Festival. Imagine my surprise when I discovered it was in English with no captions! The German director wanted to make a comedy but he told our SIFF audience that Germans only like gloomy stories, so he made it American.

Director Florian Cossen, working from a script by Elena von Saucken and Daniel Schaechter, has assembled a talented cast that tells a clichéd coming-of-age comedy about a suicidal teenage boy. Of course his clumsy suicide attempts fail; of course he's bullied; of course he's misunderstood. But what you should know is this: He's depicted by a terrific young actor who should enjoy a long fruitful career in movies. You can SEE his muted delight when doctors discover a potentially fatal brain tumor!

Our cast:
  • Alex Ozerov - Mike Tyson (his name causes bullying) is a student in a Nowheresville high school, where he is unable to focus. All he can think about are ways to kill himself. He finally agrees to go to therapy simply to stay out of a juvenile home for mental patients. His father is in Germany.
  • Bea Santos - Miranda runs an exercise class where Mike is sent. He helps her remove the lug nuts from her pickup when she has a flat. He asks her, "Have you ever tried to steal lumber on a bike?"
  • Krista Bridges - Cynthia Tyson is Mike's single mom, working two jobs and unable to unwind. She's impatient, overworked and arbitrary. Just the ticket for a teenage son, huh?
  • Sebastian Schipper - Frank Burger turns up because he sees Mike's obituary in the paper (sent in error, it seems). He comes from a nearby town to console Mike's mother.
The word "coconut" appears twice but I can't figure out why it's in the title. Oh well. By the way: This seems predictable, until suddenly it is NOT! That's all I'll say...

Amama: When a Tree Falls

This award-winning film "Amama: Quando cae un árbol" (English captions) was submitted to the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival by Spain. Because it features a Basque family, I assume the mountainous terrain is in the Pyrenees.

Directed by Asier Altuna, the tree of the title is one of three that were each planted when a baby was born. The trunk of each tree is painted a particular color which signifies the personality of each newborn infant (!) The babies' grandmother made the decision and the children were typecast at birth. The Red trunk meant that the firstborn boy would be strong, passionate and a leader. The Black trunk meant that their only daughter would be a rebel. The White trunk branded the younger boy as lazy and ineffectual. Personally, I find that brutal. But when one of the trees is cut down, we were shocked!

The cast:
  • Iraia Elías is Amaia, the poor man whose tree trunk branded him lazy and good-for-nothing. The more we see him, the more we like him. He says if you want to be happy for a day, get drunk. If you want to be happy for a week, go on a trip. If you want to be happy for a year, get married. If you want to be happy for the rest of your live, plant a vegetable garden!
  • Kandido Uranga is the hard-working father Tomas, who clings to tradition despite all the warnings from his more modern children.
  • Amparo Badiola is the Amama who decided which baby would have which personality. Whether or not she's right is immaterial, when Tomas hears his mother speak, her word is law.
  • Klara Badiola - Isabel works as hard as her husband, but Tomas should beware, because if she finally gets angry...
  • Ander Lipus is Xabi, whose tree trunk is painted red. He wants nothing to do with it.
  • Nagore Aranburu is Sara, an artist who is preparing a collection of photographs of her grandmother for an art gallery. Her tree was painted black...
Our SIFF screening audience had a variety of reactions, from tears to boredom. I was somewhere in between. I thought the photography was elegant but I have never watched a family that said LESS in my life! I just wanted them to please, please communicate! When something is done that may be interpreted as a loving gesture, even though it's vague, we cling to it!


News from Planet Mars

"Des nouvelles de la planète Mars" (English Captions) is ENTERTAINMENT not ART. We celebrated its US Premiere at the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. Submitted by France and directed by Dominik Moll ("With a Friend Like Harry") we enjoyed a goofy comedy about a fellow who seems to be exploited by everyone. He never hesitates to take a stand, but then he fails to stand there...

I hope I got this cast straight:
  • François Damiens, a Belgian comic actor, plays Phillippe Mars, a pleasant but divorced and overworked father whose unusual, maybe crazy, house guest derails his quiet life.
  • Vincent Macaigne - Jérôme isn't your average computer coder. He is prone to fits of temper (sometimes armed with a cleaver), and he really wants to be a father. But he loses his job, and it's cold out there, and he doesn't dare go home, and....
  • Léa Drucker - Myriam drops the children off with her ex because she has an important meeting out of town. Her son wants her to say the word "cucumber" during her TV news conference to secretly acknowledge him.
  • Veerle Baetens - Chloé needs to have her brother Phillippe take care of her dog while she is out of town.
  • Tom Rivoire - Their newly vegetarian son Grégoire knows he wants to help blow up the chicken farm, but he isn't sure about his History class. "Did Egypt come before the Renaissance?"
  • Jeanne Guittet - Sarah Mars just needs to do her homework but there is that house guest, and her brother, and that dog, and....
Blowie uppie stuff? You bet! Anyone with a speck of decency would want to blow up that new egg farm. They kill all the male chicks because they aren't good for meat and they don't lay eggs. Grégoire is a pretty outspoken new vegan.

As a fan of French films, I got a big kick out of seeing Michel Aumont and Catherine Samie as Phillippe's very happy (but deceased) parents. Trust me.

Red Gringo

Chile submitted the North American Premiere of this documentary to the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. "Rojo Gringo" (English captions), introduces us to a little-known pop singer from Colorado who first surfaced in 1962. Elvis had come back from the army and was influencing America's music.

Writer/director Miguel Angel Vidaurre, along with director Will Roberts have  assembled an awkward collection of news clippings, musical interludes and personal comments about Colorado-born Dean Reed, a handsome fellow who noticed he received more fan mail from South America than he did from his own United States. When he ventured to Chile, he was overwhelmed by his reception, plus what he saw of the social and political issues there. He quickly learned Spanish and began a series of concerts and other personal appearances throughout Latin America.

We watch:
  • Dean Reed said he learned people are divided into three categories: blind, status quo, or wealthy capitalists. From that statement you can see he became a political activist and made it a lifetime career.
  • José Roman is a iconic Latin American star Reed admired.
  • Gonzalo Planet is the DJ who remembers how unimpressed he was by Reed's musicality, but how very impressed he was by the crowd's reaction to him.
Eventually, as Reed's politics became well known, he was sometimes called "The Red Elvis." We see clips of him in Red Square, in many concerts, some bits from a couple of movies and generally become mildly fond of him (he IS a treat to the eye!). In my opinion, this made the most of a charming but mediocre entertainer and the eccentric lifestyle he embraced.

We the People

Remember the Love Canal in the late 1970s? Remember Flint, Michigan in early 2016? Is there something We the People can do about disasters such as these? This 2016 Seattle Film International Festival entry from the US demonstrates the galvanizing power of a well-made documentary.

Director Leila Conners has assembled interviews with local activists Thomas Linzey, Ben Price, Cathy Miorelli, Tish O'Dell and Doug Shields, plus news clips, statistics, graphs and charts to illustrate what is going on, why, and most important, what we can do about it.

Here is just a fraction of what I saw:
  • The United States is an oligarchy with most of our power concentrated with the wealthy and their influential lobbyists.
  • It's far easier for lobbyists to bribe 700 people (U.S. Congress and some high-ranking staff) than to control 10,000 local governments who are concerned for the health and wellbeing of their children. Thus their fondness for a centralized government.
  • Government agencies are ineffectual to make fundamental changes. Concerned citizens say "EPA stands for Everything Permitted Always" because community meetings about a concern are called AFTER permits have been issued.
  • Activists have learned to address these issues from a political standpoint, not a legal one. That way, the lawyers can't get involved but the voters can.
  • If local government doesn't act, we have the power of Initiatives, the press, and if it is working, education for our young people
  • In a Democracy the supreme power is with the people, thus local control MUST be regained. (We started to become a more centralized government - exactly what we had rebelled against - in the late 1700s.)
  • This issue is world wide, not just in the United States.
We see the effects of toxic dumping, drilling, and strip mining on small communities. We see how hard the local people have worked to stop the degradation of the water supply for their towns and discover what they have learned (the hard way). This is both instructive and constructive because it has become clear how frustrated and mute citizens feel. In addition, it shows the positive effects of local control.

This one is important.


Me Before You

Where was Clint Eastwood when Sam Claflin was conceived? We just saw a two-hanky weeper that features a young man who is the spittin' image of young Eastwood. "Me Before You" is so sure it can reduce you to tears, we were offered small boxes of tissues as we entered the theater. In this award-winning romantic drama, we see a recently paralyzed (quadriplegic) man whose mother hires a quirky, naive young woman to be his caretaker.

Director Thea Sharrock ("Call the Midwife"), working with a script from Jojo Moyes (based on her own novel), brings us an extremely attractive and likable young couple confronted by one of life's most perplexing problems: the right to die.

The cast:
  • Sam Claflin (Finnick in "The Hunger Games") is Will Traynor, adamant about his solution to an untenable situation. His fiancée just married his friend and Will is in chronic pain, so the decision wasn't made lightly.
  • Emilia Clarke (Daenerys in "Game of Thrones") is Lou Clark, very sure about many things, but definitely UNsure about Will's "solution." She becomes Will's caretaker because her family needs the money. She and Will have a rocky beginning.
  • Janet McTeer (a musicologist in "Songcatcher") is Will's mother Camilla, who is opposed to his plan. She hopes having a lively companion might change his mind.
  • Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister in "Game of Thrones") is his wealthy father. Stephen feels obligated to honor Will's decision, even though it causes him anguish.
  • Brendan Coyle (Bates in "Downton Abbey") is Lou's father Bernard. The characters Coyle plays are unfailingly intelligent, moral and have great insight into the human condition. His advice to his daughter is priceless.
All in all, I appreciate seeing all sides to this controversial issue. (Lou's Catholic mother is particularly adamant and angry.) But what cheered me (AND Will!) was Lou's wardrobe. I'm sure the costume designer had a field day. I won't even TRY to describe the outfits she assembles, you MUST see them to believe them! Each new scene brings a new treat.

There are NO bad guys in this PG-13 romance, instead we have at least eight people to root for! What a refreshing change from the mindless, CGI-laden spectacles to which we recently have been subjected. See this one...
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Here is an extended (UK) trailer:
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Naledi: A Baby Elephant's Tale

The world premiere of this nature documentary was submitted by the USA to the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival as a clarion call to arms about the horrific death toll for African elephants. Ninety-six die every day. I recently read "The Emotional Lives of Animals" by Mark Bekoff and was constantly reminded of the institutional memory that is lost each time one of these magnificent animals is killed for ivory. Aren't the poachers' customers ashamed of themselves for causing this tragedy? What can they be thinking?

The sale of ivory is legal all over the world, including the United States. When we watch eight or nine men struggle to save ONE little orphan elephant who is grieving the loss of her mother, we can see how valuable their lives are considered to be.

If you love animals, you will cherish the scenes where starving little Naledi finally bonds with one of her caretakers and literally climbs up into his lap. Luckily, he's a pretty big guy, so it worked out. We practically applauded.

Directed by Ben Bowie and Geoff Luck, this looks at the situation from both a micro and a macro point of view. One is the survival of a little orphan, while the other is the survival of the species! This is wildlife film so we are treated to a live birth on screen and the ugly sight of massacred elephants dotting the landscape. Paul Allen's Vulcan Productions is one of the producers and again I say, More power to him for using some of his money this humanitarian way! You GO Paul!

Sand Storm

"Sufat chol" (English captions) was submitted by Israel for the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. Written and directed by Elite Zexer, an up and coming Israeli woman, this involving story places us in a Bedouin village. A wedding celebration is under way; we quickly see that the first wife is saddled with the responsibility for the festivities. Her daughters are watching her every move.

Winner of the 2016 World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, we watch education, tradition, religion and young love all butt heads.
The cast:
  • Lamis Ammar - Layla is going to school but is distracted by a boy from another tribe. Her grades have suffered and her father is NOT happy. He's busy preparing for his wedding to a second wife. Layla is rebellious. This actress has a wonderful face!
  • Ruba Blal - Jalila represents the first generation of wives to question the polygamist tradition. She works hard so she won't embarrass her husband, but you can see her conflicts. This terrific actress conveys strength, patience and determination.
  • Hitham Omari - Suliman sees himself as a good husband, a good father and a good man. He is convinced he has no choice in his decisions about his wedding, his wives or his daughters. This handsome actor conveys maturity and understanding.
  • Khadija Al Akel - Tasnin is Layla's younger sister. Her generation will decide the future for the Bedouins. Young Khadija is our eyes and ears. She shows us the right balance between curious and potentially rebellious.
  • Jalal Masrwa - Handsome Anwar understands Suliman's decisions and tells Layla that he would make exactly the same ones. But he wants his future to be with her...
This screenplay came from a friendship the writer/director's mother enjoyed when she was shooting a series about Bedouins. Zexer was inspired by what her mother saw. This is impressive filmmaking with no actual villains. We even come to pity the second wife! And this offers remarkable insight into the daily labors of the woman in Bedouin villages.


Up for Love

Jean Dujardin is never afraid to take a chance. Please remember that he won an Oscar for playing a vain movie star in "The Artist," a black-and-white silent film that pays homage to early Hollywood.  In "Un homme à la hauteur" (English captions) he plays a successful and witty architect who is only 4'6" tall. This romantic comedy was submitted to the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival from France.

Director Laurent Tirard ("Molière") offers us a schmaltzy film that could easily have become sappy but in my opinion, the wit is leavened by the solid heart that never stops beating. In addition, we are constantly reminded of the brilliant filmmaking that seamlessly gives us Dujardin's handsome face on a well-proportioned midget's body. By the way, Brice Simien Baron is that body double. I was delighted to see him credited in the cast!

We watch:
  • Jean Dujardin ("The Artist") Alexandre spots a mobile phone left by a lawyer who was having a public spat with her former husband. He sees "Home" on her call list, so rings her at home so he can arrange to return it. Even their first phone chat is clever and funny.
  • Virginie Efira ("Family for Rent") Diane Duchêne is a successful lawyer. Problem is, she is still partners with her former husband, whose ethics are a bit slippery. Our brown-eyed blonde isn't willing to take any more professional risks with him. They have been divorced for over three years and he never improves...
  • Cédric Kahn ("Aliyah") Bruno Cassoni wants to keep a client who has become notoriously shady. He feels if the money is good, why not risk it? Diane is being unreasonably stubborn!
There is never a moment when we feel our hero is being derided by the script. The conflicts our characters feel are no doubt real and based on actual experience. She is aware of how they appear when they go out in public together but they are so compatible she is tempted to take a chance. But then there is her MOTHER!

We left the theater with big smiles on our faces. This is upbeat, plenty of people to root for, no gunshots, no betrayals, just a bit of vehicular mayhem and the CGI is flawless. We liked this one a LOT.

Thinking back on this, I still smile at his tractor story and her plastic surgery face ("I haven't had a THING done!). Oh! And the DOG! I'll be ordering the DVD.

Burn Burn Burn

The 2016 Seattle International Film Festival hosted the US Premiere of "Burn Burn Burn" from the United Kingdom. Director Chanya Button, working from a screenplay by Charlie Covell brings us a classic road trip, pairing long-time friends who have been tasked with the delivery of their late friend's ashes to four very different locales in the UK.

Each stop entails a segment of his farewell video in which he both chides them for their shortcomings and praises them for their other qualities. He also prompts them to address some long-standing issues with their families.

The award-winning cast:
  • Laura Carmichael ("Downton Abbey") is Seph. She has an alcohol problem, a (sorta) boyfriend and she questions the value of a job for which she is called a "nanny."
  • Chloe Pirrie (Lots of TV) is Alex, who just caught her girlfriend with a new lover. Alex is alienated from her mother, has a dark secret and major trust issues.
  • Jack Farthing ("Poldark") Dan is trying to restore Seph's job, track her journey and propose to her.
  • Joe Dempsie ("Game of Thrones") is the late James. His videos, shot during his tragic decline, are the instruction manual for our gals as they gamely try to follow his instructions. He calls himself "Casper the Friendly Ghost."
  • Alison Steadman ("Pride and Prejudice" 1996) Diana is a hitchhiker they pick up. She may or may not be crazy.
Our screening audience was impressed by the quality of the acting and the production values, but my personal impression was pretty tepid, mainly because I had so much trouble making out what they said. In fact, the last line of the movie elicited a big laugh and I had to ask a fellow what was said. Aarghhh...
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Take a peek:
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