The Zookeeper's Wife

We are in Warsaw, prior to WWII; watch what happens when the Nazis invade Poland. Director Niki Caro ("McFarland, USA"), working from a PG-13 script by Angela Workman ("The War Bride") brings Diane Ackerman's international best-selling novel (based on a true story) to life. As bombs fall, we see the reactions of the animals in the zoo (I had never thought about that before) and the humans trapped in the Nazis' path.

Zookeepers Antonina and Jan Zabinski not only undertake the protection of animals, but also humans who are caught in a hellacious situation. A victim, whether with two legs or four, is still a victim.

Caro's brilliant cast includes:
  • Jessica Chastain ("Miss Sloane") is Antonina, a generous and loving caretaker, her first instinct is to protect and comfort. I have never seen an actor so totally at ease with animals, from elephants to a pet skunk, she pats, soothes, kisses and strokes them and they respond in kind.
  • Johan Heldenbergh ("The Broken Circle Breakdown") is her resourceful husband Jan, dedicated to his life's work, caring for the animals entrusted to his safekeeping. He is horrified by the brutality he sees on the streets; he cannot refuse to help. 
  • Daniel Brühl ("Burnt") Lutz Heck has a haywire idea that is so goofy I knew it had to be part of the true story. A screenwriter wouldn't dare make up something so outrageous. I began to scoff before Jan. Sure enough, if you Google him, look for the herd that carries the Heck name. Multilingual Brühl works all over Europe. 
  • Shira Haas ("A Tale of Love and Darkness") Ursula gives a name and a face to one of the Nazis' many victims.
We have plenty of souls to root for and we cringe as we watch Jan helpfully boost adorable children into the railroad car: we know what lies ahead. In other cases we mostly HEAR gunshots and imagine the results. There is more blood when Antonina helps that elephant with her newborn calf...an amazing scene, by the way. This is PG-13 because of one fleeting glimpse of a breast and an obscured view of mating buffalo.

The dialogue is in English with Polish accents and is very muted (people are often hiding), so I longed for closed captions. Once again we are treated with memorable work from Ms. Chastain, who may very well be this generation's Meryl Streep. (But Chastain's profile is prettier.)
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Watch this excellent preview:
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The Last Word

Have you ever been tempted to write your own obituary? I have read some obituaries written by the deceased that are hilarious! (I might give it a try, now that I think about it...) Here we have a control freak who is bored, bored, bored. She was recently fired from her own ad agency and soon realizes that many obituaries of her peers don't tell the whole truth. She isn't willing to leave something as important as her own obituary to strangers she doesn't trust, so she shanghais an experienced journalist into addressing the problem...

This R-rated (language) film is part of a "Movies for Grownups" movement that I heartily recommend. The script might be just a tad predictable, but we know we will be entertained every single minute. Working from a script by Stuart Ross Fink, director Mark Wellington ("Henry Poole is Here") brings us a first-rate dramedy which features some of our favorite actors.

They include:
  • Shirley MacClaine ("Elsa & Fred") Harriet has never doubted herself and she isn't about to start in now! She divides an obituary into four essential elements: Family, Profession, Other Achievements and a "Wild Card." (Which usually provides a catchy opening line.)
  • Tom Everett Scott ("La La Land") Ronald Odom is trying to keep the family newspaper alive although print media is a dying business. Harriet's advertising agency had provided revenue that kept his newspaper going for years, so he's willing to throw his obituary writer under the bus...
  • Amanda Seyfried ("Pan") Even though Anne is the official obituary writer for the local newspaper, Harriet doesn't think this young woman understands her profession! Those two go nose-to-nose. She says "Harriet puts B*tch in Obituary." By the way, Seyfried and MacClaine are co-producers of this film.
  • AnnJewel Lee Dixon (in her film debut) Brenda is a precocious little girl who instantly qualifies for Harriet's "Wild Card," because she's opinionated, underprivileged, a hooligan and a minority. (Harriet is smart enough to exploit the system.) Brenda tells her, "Ya gotta be SOMETHIN'!"
  • Valeri Ross ("American Crime Story") Wanda Barnes has worked with many defiant children in her child-care facility, but Brenda taxes even HER patience!
  • Thomas Sadoski ("John Wick") Robin Sands runs Anne's favorite radio station. Harriet has never heard of it, but watch what happens when she does! (She owns an amazing set of LPs - remember those?)
  • Yvette Freeman ("Orange is the New Black") Harriet's housekeeper knows it ALL! But she isn't telling.
  • Anne Heche ("Aftermath") Elizabeth has her own version of the truth but she provides her alienated mother with a hearty laugh.
  • Gedde Watanabe ("Bravest Warriors") Harriet's gardener can't make up his mind. Is his boss losing it? MUST they mow the lawn every other day?
  • Joel Murray (Lots of TV) Joe Mueller used to work for Harriet and has nothing but praise for her take-no-prisoners style.
All her life, our heroine has had to battle her way; this means her doctor, her gynecologist, her hairdresser, her former husband, and many others who have had to deal with her, have PLENTY to say to the obituary writer (we in the audience laughed a LOT!). Even Debbie Reynolds shows up in this montage...and gets a big laugh. I really enjoyed it when one of the three leads would suddenly come up with a great, catchy opening line for another obituary!

Many of the scenes look like oil paintings and the musical sound track is to die for (I would have appreciated captions). We were an enthused and energized screening audience who exited the theater.
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Check out the preview:
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Love & Friendship

Unbeknownst to me, Jane Austen wrote a little-known novella called "Lady Susan." From that source acclaimed writer/director Whit Stillman ("Damsels in Distress") brings us a PG-rated screenplay that captures Austen's wry wit, her observational humor and her affection for the silly human weaknesses that surrounded her.

Stillman's cast:
  • Kate Beckinsale ("The Disappointments Room") clearly relishes her role as Lady Susan Vernon, smarter by half than the people who toss in her wake, outwitted, outflanked and outmaneuvered. She looks forward to each battle of wits, secure in the knowledge that she will, as usual, prevail.
  • Morfydd Clark ("Pride and Prejudice and Zombies") Lady Susan's daughter Frederica cannot escape the machinations of her mother... although she certainly tries.
  • Tom Bennett (Lots of BBC television) nearly steals the show as Sir James Martin. He makes Mr. Collins in "Pride and Prejudice" look downright intelligent. e.g., Sir James is delighted to learn that Frederica reads both poetry AND verse!
  • Chloë Sevigny ("American Horror Story") Alicia Johnson is Lady Susan's only friend. Her husband keeps threatening to ship her back to Connecticut ("Why my dear, you'll be scalped!")
  • Stephen Frye ("The Man Who Knew Infinity") is her gouty husband Mr. Johnson.
  • Xavier Samuel ("Fury") is the young. naive Reginald DeCourcy. Lady Susan plays him like a ping pong ball, bouncing him up and down even while he thinks it's all his own idea. He never sees any of it coming!
  • James Fleet ("Outlander") is wonderful as his alarmed father Sir Reginald DeCourcy. He is painfully aware of Lady Susan's reputation and intends to protect his family.
The verbiage flies, the sly characterizations zip by and reputations are at stake! This one was suggested to me by the Swedish branch of JayFlix. I obtained the DVD from the city library and am tempted to get my own copy. I have most of Austin's comedies of manners, why not add one that has more comedy than most, and best of all, with wonderful closed captions!

Thank you Sweden!
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Check out this trailer:
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The Dressmaker

As this 2015 movie starts in a dusty little Australian wide spot in the road, we immediately realize that the people we will be joining are not very nice. An extremely well-dressed young woman walks to a rundown hovel and is met with a torrent of abuse from a semi-bedridden old crone. Her response is to start to clean up the place and try to feed that hateful woman.

Australian director Jocelyn Moorhouse ("How to Make an American Quilt") working from a novel by Rosalie Ham, has created an authentic-feeling, provincial bunch of small-minded people who do NOT welcome back this long-absent villager. In no time at all, we realize there are some BIG secrets in this little place!

The cast:
  • Kate Winslet ("Collateral Beauty") Tilly has come back to find out what actually happened when she was a child. She only knew she had been exiled but didn't understand why.
  • Judy Davis ("Feud") Molly is not interested in enlightening her daughter. Some things are best left alone!
  • Hugo Weaving ("Hacksaw Ridge") Sergeant Farrat has his own take on the event that haunts the town. He quickly realizes that some of the fabrics Tilly brought with her are fabulous! (See the preview.)
  • Liam Hemsworth ("Hunger Games") Teddy is the local hunk who is determined to catch Tilly's eye. His developmentally disabled brother might know a secret.
We watch a drug-addicted wife cruelly exploited by her philandering husband, a spurned young woman who discovers how effective a smart new outfit can be, a petty social climber interested only in her own future, and a mother still grieving for her long-dead child...who, in my opinion, was a spoiled, nasty, playground bully.

This unpredictable tale has humor, mystery, revenge, reconciliation, and a satisfying end...AND the DVD has captions!
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Watch this preview:
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Beauty and the Beast

This story from France always feels like a first cousin to my Scandinavian favorite "East of the Sun and West of the Moon," but it certainly enjoys wider distribution. This movie is a delight from beginning to end, although personally, I could have done without verses three and four in some of those songs. ...yawn.

It was fun to smile at the various movies that received a teeny homage, I'll let you discover them for yourself. And any child knows our two leads are meant for each other when it is revealed that they both love to read.

Director Bill Condon ("Dreamgirls") has taken Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulis' script which has been updated from the Disney's 1991 animated version. They added a new song or two and created eye candy for the millennium.

The cast:
  • Emma Watson ("Harry Potter") is Belle, the young woman who is derided in her village because she is "different." She lives with her widowed father, reads books, and (gasp!) teaches little girls to read.
  • Kevin Kline ("Ricki and the Flash") is her father Maurice. He is a craftsman, a tinkerer, and a proud, loving father.
  • Luke Evans ("The Girl on the Train") is Gaston, the egotistical bully who has set his lusty sights on our heroine, to her disgust!
  • Dan Stevens ("Night at the Museum 3" he's hilarious!) Beast is a prisoner in his own castle, bewitched (along with his household staff) by an evil spell that will become permanent when the last petal falls off that rose.
  • Josh Gad ("Frozen") LeFou is Gaston's toady, always ready with flattery and groveling.
The story is unchanged and the production values are spectacular. The script is PG due to a couple of hair-raising flights through some dark woods with wolves in hot pursuit. The voice artists are well-known actors who are given a curtain call and just a bit of live action right at the end. They include Ewan McGregor (Lumière), Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts), Ian McKellan (Cogsworth), Audra McDonald (Madame Garderobe), and Stanley Tucci (Maestro Cadenza). I don't know who played that yappy little footstool, but he was a delight. Celine Dion does the honors with the main theme song. What a classic!

If you like beautiful clothes, lovely landscapes, elaborate sets and musical set pieces, look for this at your nearest multiplex.

Our early matinee audience at Seattle's Cinerama, applauded at the end.
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Here is just a sample:
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The Sense of an Ending

Warning. This PG-13 film is for adults! There is no gunfire, No profanity. No vehicular mayhem, No zombies. No superheroes. And no blowie uppie stuff! Instead we have what appear to be real people with real issues, and a cast that can deliver the goods.

However... Adults notwithstanding: No CAPTIONS! A few lucky people in our screening audience were able to catch the gist of some of the humor, but many of us, particularly those of us with hearing loss, were completely at sea for much of this film.

Working from a novel by Julian Barnes and adapted for the screen by Nick Payne, acclaimed director Ritesh Batra ("The Lunchbox") has assembled this stellar cast:
  • Jim Broadbent ("Game of Thrones") Tony Webster can look back on his life with a certain amount of satisfaction, after all, he'll soon be a grandfather, plus he has that tiny little camera repair shop and just (barely) enough customers.
  • Harriet Walter ("Call the Midwife") His ex-wife Margaret has a slightly different take. He had never seemed very engaged in their marriage, which is why she divorced him a few years ago.
  • Michelle Dockery ("Downton Abbey") Their daughter Susie just wants her baby...false alarms and all.
  • Charlotte Rampling ("Broadchurch") Tony's old flame Veronica Ford, on the other hand, does not feel duty-bound to deliver that diary to Tony, no matter what she was instructed.
  • Emily Mortimer ("The Newsroom") Veronica's mother Sarah was a free spirit sorely in need of diversion. She enjoyed her daughter's friends...a LOT!
  • We also see Tony and Veronica as their younger selves, ably portrayed by Billy Howle and Freya Mavor. We can see that these young adults were living in a hormonal storm and not coping with it very honorably.
Our hero insists that our lives are a series of holding pens, but they become the history we choose to remember; now he has to live with that theory.

This unpredictable movie had so many things to recommend it, it was even more frustrating when the poor sound detracted from the story. I wish I had better things to report... Sorry.
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Take a look:
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