A Man Called Ove

A former colleague has been singing the praises of this runaway hit from Sweden. I was so happy to see "En man som heter Ove" (English captions) on the press-screening roster for the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. That Swede is also the sharp-eyed fellow who spotted "The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared," another Swedish comedy which was a major hit with SIFF two years ago.

This award-winning comedy from Sweden and Norway is based on the bestselling novel by Fredrik Backman and adapted for the screen by writer/director Hannes Holm. This delightful romp is about a crotchety old coot who is the neighborhood curmudgeon; he still serves as president of his homeowners' association despite the fact that he was voted out several years ago. He has one single goal in mind, but seems to be thwarted at every turn... 

Now some new people are moving in. The first thing they do is knock down his mailbox because they don't know how to back up a vehicle with a trailer attached. And a car with some despised "White shirts" (bureaucrats) keeps defying his "no vehicles" rule. And a stray cat refuses to be run off. And his former best friend may be taken to a nursing home. And the new neighbor borrows his ladder. And...and...and... The plot is nicely complex and the humor is strictly character driven. I have rarely heard a SIFF audience laugh so heartily.

The cast:
  • Rolf Lassgård is Ove, our eponymous grouch, still running the neighborhood with an iron fist. He patrols it every morning.
  • Bahar Pars - Parvenah is the lovely new (pregnant) neighbor involved with that mailbox.
  • Filip Berg plays the young Ove. As we watch flashbacks of his childhood we can see where this grumpiness comes from! (But Willie Nelson sings "You Are Always on My Mind," so it's fine by me.)
  • Ida Engvoll - The lovely Sonja has strong opinions, too! She leaves a long trail of happy students and neighbors who still miss her.
As tensions mount, we see flashback after flashback which clarifies our view on the current situation. This has a whole neighborhood full of people to root for, plenty of laughs, some grief, and a nice opinion of a man who visits his beloved wife's grave every day. Many SIFF members are geared to more artistic tribulations, but a lot of us left the theater with a big smile on our faces.


The Magnificent Seven

Ready for a remake of a remake? Let's see.... Akira Kurosawa filmed "Seven Samurai" with Toshirô Mifune, followed by John Sturgis' "The Magnificent Seven" with Yul Brynner (I'm not counting the TV series). Now Antoine Fuqua saddles up with Kurosawa's original script tweaked for today's audience. This 132-minute testosterone-laden actioner boasts a terrific multi-cultural cast; just wait until you see who is in it!

The story? In a nutshell, a small farming community is being terrorized by a businessman who owns some gold mines in the area. He employs a huge number of gunmen to enforce his policies.

Part of that cast;
  • Denzel Washington ("Flight") Chisolm answers to no one. He has a job to do and he does it. I liked that he moved his horse out of harm's way when things heated up.
  • Chris Pratt ("Jurassic World") Josh enjoys everything, but particularly magic tricks and blowing things up.
  • Ethan Hawke ("In a Valley of Violence") Since the war, Goodnight Robicheaux has been at loose ends. He travels with Billy Rocks.
  • Byung-hun Lee ("RED 2") Billy Rocks is a wizard with blades. If you don't believe me, just watch!
  • Manuel Garcia-Rulfo ("Bless Me, Ultima") Vasquez believes in Chisolm and doesn't have anything better to do...
  • Vincent D'Onofrio ("Jurassic World") Jack had me buffaloed. I couldn't understand a word he said, but his actions spoke louder than words.
  • Martin Sensmeier ("Lilin's Brood") Red Harvest doesn't fit in with his tribe, so he might as well join Chisolm. Watch this guy ride bareback!
  • Peter Sarsgaard ("Black Mass") Bartholomew Bogue is the dirty rotten scoundrel we love to hate. This wealthy crook is a heartless boss and a vicious bully.
  • Matt Bomer ("The Nice Guys") Local farmer Matthew may look ill-prepared to confront the bad guys, but Bomer absolutely SHINES in this role!
  • Haley Bennett ("The Girl on the Train") Emma is really, really mad. She wants to take back their town, so she sets out to find gunmen who can help the townspeople. She can't allow herself any doubts or second thoughts.
This is rated PG-13, so expect LOTS (and lots and lots) of gunfire, blood and fisticuffs, a smattering of profanity and some well-placed blowie uppie stuff, but no sex (this is, after all, rated PG-13...smile...). There is plenty of humor, particularly during the training phase for those frightened, inept townspeople.

Our screening audience exited the theater energized and satisfied.
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Check out this preview;
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Queen of Katwe

This PG-rated film is for folks who love David v Goliath stories (I'm one of them). Award-winning director Mira Nair ("The Namesake") brings us the true story of a girl from Uganda who learns to play chess. Our screening audience had a BIG representation of children. I don't know if they were in chess clubs or what, but you could have heard a pin drop at any time during the movie's 123-minute running time.

Based on Tim Crother's biographical book by the same name, screenwriter William Wheeler's screenplay brings us all the tension of a high-stress sport, the upbeat training of a would-be winner, and the exultation of watching someone come from nowhere to challenge the best of the best.

Nair's cast:
  • Madina Nawanga (in her first role) is Phiona Mutesi, a happy, observant girl who is fascinated by the game but too shy to go in and learn how to play it. She IS defensive though, and lights into the first boy who insults her. Ultimately her goal is to become a Chess Grandmaster.
  • David Oyelowo ("Selma") is her mentor, Robert Katende. He encourages this curious girl and is amazed by her natural aptitude. He offers books for her to study but she can't read. Robert tells Phiona that his chess school is for fighters!
  • Lupita Nyong'o (Oscar winner for "12 Years a Slave") is Harriet Mutesi, an overworked, angry and confused mother of four. Her girl Phiona has work to do and shouldn't be wasting her time on a game! When Harriet speaks English (the official language of Uganda) it is accented but when she speaks her native language, there are captions.
Many many things ring true: At their first competition, our country mice have anxiety attacks when confronted by the wealth and snobbery of the city mice; they have yet to master the self-control the other chess players demonstrate. I loved how people would growl at each other when provoked and I wish I could figure out how they pop their fingers; it is unique and effective. So is the way these events change the players, making it a challenge to go back home again and try to fit in.

This is Mira Nair's movie, so you can expect a wonderful series of curtain calls, as each actor with his or her name on display is joined by the "real" person with his or her name. In addition, she includes a brief update on the principals' lives since the events we just saw. Of course as soon as this is concluded, they all join in with a song and dance. Pure Bollywood! We love Mira.
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One of the most intriguing documentaries of 2014 was "Citizenfour," Laura Poltras' Oscar-winning report of her meetings with Edward Snowden and journalist Glenn Greenwald in a Hong Kong hotel; "Citizenfour" was Snowden's on-line name. For this scripted version of his story, the central issue is unchanged: the secret surveillance of American citizens by the NSA and its massive scope.

Writer/Director Oliver Stone (""Wall Street Money Never Sleeps") working from a script on which he collaborated with Kieran Fitzgerald, brings us his R-rated version based on two more books on the topic. Despite some ramped-up dramatic scenes, the story is the same, and  we're delighted to see a face for Snowden's girlfriend. By the way, Stone loves super-close closeups, so be prepared to see every scar, flaw, pore and whisker in many scenes.

His cast:
  • Joseph Gordon Levitt ("The Lookout")  is excellent as Edward Snowden, who lands in the world of international intrigue too bright, too young, too observant, and too honest. Not a good combination.
  • Melissa Leo ("The Big Short") is Laura Poltras, the award-winning filmmaker who films the interviews and publishes her work. She also becomes a friend...
  • Zachary Quinto ("Star Trek") plays journalist Glenn Greenwald, a multilingual journalist who blasts through a bureaucratic stone wall to help get Snowden's exposé published in a timely way.
  • Rhys Ifans ("Madame Bovary") is Corbin O'Brien, this time my favorite Welsh chameleon plays American as apple pie, but his character serves to illustrate how gifted our hero is and shows why he was given such high-priority jobs at such a early age.
  • Shailene Woodley ("The Divergent") is Lindsay Mills, a lovely young woman who loves to debate. With her yin to Snowden's yang; liberal versus conservative; adventurous opposed to cautious, she brings a lively sparkle to his life.
  • Tom Wilkinson ("Selma" he played LBJ) Ewan MacAskill is with the Guardian, a trusted London newspaper. He feels it should back Snowden and is willing to pressure the powers that be.
  • Nicholas Cage ("Left Behind") Hank Forrester is working on the next generation cryptanalysis after Enigma; he hopes Snowden can help....
  • Timothy Olyphant ("This is Where I Leave You") CIA Agent Geneva shows greenhorn Snowden "how things work."
  • Ben Schnetzer ("The Book Thief") Gabriel Sol calls Snowden "Snow White" because he is so innocent and naīve. He keeps warning him to watch out for that poisoned apple.
  • Scott Eastwood ("Suicide Squad") Trevor James is head honcho for a bunch of whiz kids who are supposed to find security flaws but who are then are derided as hackers (they hack the hackers!).
Snowden's major assertion is that NSA is no longer fighting terrorism, but instead is amassing global information for economic control. NSA has created a Dragnet on the world, even though he has been told "A job can't be criminal when you're working for the government."

We do a double-take when we realize that in the final scenes, the "real" Edward Snowden is playing himself. The casting by Lucy Bevan and Mary Vernieu is excellent! I realize that most of you haven't seen the documentary, in which case, you will find this movie both interesting and deeply disturbing.
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Here is a preview:
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A "Monday Morning Quarterback" is someone who criticizes and says how he would have done something better or differently after the event has passed. Keep that in mind!

Legendary director (four Oscars) Clint Eastwood ("American Sniper") brings us the story of what happened to the people involved after the "happily ever after" Miracle on the Hudson. Based on Chesley Sullenberger's book "Highest Duty," we start with the events that transpired after a jetliner encountered a flock of geese and had less than 3 1/2 minutes to make a forced landing on the Hudson River. Algorithms used by Monday Morning Quarterbacks show there was no need to land on the river.

Part of Eastwood's cast:
  • Tom Hanks ("Captain Phillips") Sully is an experienced pilot (1,000,000 passengers over 40 years) who follows procedure and sticks to his guns even during the subsequent hearing.
  • Aaron Eckhart ("Courage") Jeff Skiles is Sully's co-pilot, happy to be back in New York....alive! He is a loyal and professional friend. Their emergency actions look choreographed, but it is a well-rehearsed procedure for all pilots.
  • Laura Linney ("Mr. Holmes") Sully's wife Lorraine, besieged by the press in the family home, has to watch her husband attacked and second guessed on New York television.
  • Anna Gunn, Mike O'Malley and Jamie Sheridan are the three lead interrogators. Our screening audience groaned at their snide suppositions and their blind trust in the flight simulator.
  • Chris Bauer ("The People v. O.J. Simpson") Sully is lucky to have Larry on his side! You'll see that midnight call is warranted...
  • Patch Darragh (Lots of TV) Patrick Harten is the Air Traffic Controller who first hears "Mayday!" from US Airways Flight 1549. We share his incredulity as he grasps the magnitude of the problem and instantly sets about to resolve it.
This 93-minute, PG-13 movie (which should be shortlisted for Best Picture in next year's Oscars), makes us proud to be human beings and Eastwood once again demonstrates why he is held in such high regard: Not one scene is wasted nor is there any unnecessary dialogue, while the central issue remains crystal clear.

Oh, keep in mind that you will have over 150 people to root for, along with the fine folks of New York City. You can't beat THAT! Be sure to stay for the reunion held by the REAL passengers and crew as they celebrate their gratitude and loyalty to the modest gentleman who kept them alive.
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The Light Between Oceans

Based on the best-selling novel by M.L. Stedman, this wrenching romantic drama is adapted and directed by Derek Cianfrance ("Blue Valentine"). In it we see a lighthouse keeper and the love of his life rescue an infant from a rowboat adrift off the coast of Australia. Because of their own personal tragedies, this seems like a gift from above. Did someone say "Be careful what you wish for?"

Our screening audience found it unpredictable and we discussed whether or not it is a chick flick. Granted there is no CGI, no gunfire, no vehicular mayhem and no blowie uppie stuff, and there IS a lovely montage of a newly married couple finding comfort and happiness in each other. Maybe it IS a chick flick, but the men seemed to be interested in their dilemma and the legal issues involved.

Here is a part of the highly acclaimed cast:
  • Michael Fassbender ("Steve Jobs") Pensive widower and WWI veteran Tom, is a decent man. He understands the moral issues and is determined to do the right thing. On the other hand, he knows what Isabel is suffering.
  • Alicia Vikander ("The Man From UNCLE") Isabel is thrilled that her arms are no longer empty. Her response is atavistic and primitive, an overwhelming maternal need for a child. The presence of this wonderful actress elevates her costar's game. Fassbender rises to the challenge.
  • Rachel Weisz ("Oz the Great and Powerful") Hannah is a grieving mother; is there a scant chance that her baby is still alive?
  • Florence Cleary (in her debut) Lucy-Grace is the center of the controversy. Who is her mother? This child is so beautifully directed it's hard to tell that she even knows there is a camera anywhere around. Notice in particular the scene with the tiara made of flowers. Any parent would fight for the right to raise this one!
  • Jack Thompson ("The Great Gatsby") Ralph has seen it all and nothing gets by him. His unsolicited advice is pretty good, too!
  • Bryan Brown ("The Good Wife") Hannah's father Septimus understands his little granddaughter very well; AND she loves that he rides a horse!
This is PG-13, so expect adult topics and two extremely well-acted miscarriages. For an actress who, to the best of my knowledge has never had a child, Vikander avoids all of the screaming and histrionics so often employed by other actresses. Her affection for her husband and her little girl just radiate from the screen. In addition, you may smile at the difference between a "real" Aussie version of "Waltzing Matilda" and the simpler song taught in American schools.

Adam Arkapaw's cinematography is worthy of mention. We are dazzled by landscapes, seascapes, stormy seas, quiet seas, remote harbors, rocks, meadows, churches, the lighthouse and the incessant wind. We see quiet beaches, sunsets, moonrises, rainstorms, and busy waterfronts. All are terrific.

Even though not one of the three leads attempted to replicate an Australian accent, we liked this one, but if you have hearing problems see this in a theater with Closed Captions or wait for the DVD.
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Here is a sample:
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