Movie Review: A better-late-than-never “Fashion Icon” takes a bow in “Iris”

3stars2She was never a great beauty, a model or magazine editor, never married anybody famous. But somehow, Iris Apfel was annointed a New York “fashion icon.”
That’s out of the ordinary in itself. That Apfel achieved this status, with her vast collection of couture accessories earning a Metropolitan Museum of Art show followed by newspaper profiles and magazine covers, well into her ’80s, is what makes her rise astonishing, and worthy of “Iris,” one of the last documentaries of the late and great Albert Maysles.
The godfather of “fly on the wall” documentaries (“Grey Gardens”, “When We Were Kings”) followed the now ninetysomething Apfel as she bounced around Manhattan, giving talks, supervising makeovers, and getting dolled up.
“Iris” studies this poster girl for “Dress to Excess.” Bangled and bedazzled to the max in her garishly mismatched outfits, wading through her decades of designer duds — and necklaces and bracelets — all topped by champagne-colored hair and glasses the size of demitasse saucers, she is lauded by one and all for “making it work.”
And Maysles, 88 when he died earlier this year and very much her contemporary, lets you think “He’s having us on” or “The Empress has no clothes because she has too many.” At least for a while.
“My mother worshipped at the altar of the accessory,” Iris cracks as rings and bracelets rattle with every gesture. And yes, before you ask, she married money.
But over the course of her long life, Iris Apfel shifted from magazine work to interior design. Her husband Carl (who cleared 100 in 2014) bought a fabric importer in the 1940s and she became an expert buyer. She decorated and re-decorated the White House under multiple presidents.
She is an icon for being “at the intersection of fashion, interior design and art,” as one museum curator puts it.
Maysles follows her to swap meets and street bazaars, her trained eye picking out this unusual bauble or that one. She haggles. “That’s where my money goes,” Carl sings, “to buy my baby’s clothes.”
And all along life’s way she acquired things and never gave them up, warehousing some of it, packing the rest into the apartment she shares with Carl.
Maysles could have made this another “Grey Gardens,” seeing Apfel as just a well-heeled hoarder. But Apfel never comes off as eccentric, just singular.
She tells Maysles, and young women she meets and others she schools in style the same thing, a life lesson for how to get dressed in the morning in the most competitive city on Earth.
“I like…individuality, so much lost these days.” And nobody could ever accuse “Iris” of not practicing what she preaches.


MPAA Rating: PG – 13 for some strong language

Cast: Iris Apfel
Credits: Directed by Albert Maysles. A Magnolia release.

Running time: 1:20

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Weekend Box Office: “Adaline” neck and neck with no-neck “Furious,” “Ex Machina” opens well

boxofficeLast weekend in April, most of the releases rolled out this weekend are in the tentative territory.

The faith-based fumble “Little Boy” is on over 1,000 theaters, and may barely crack the Top Ten, per

“Ex Machina”, very smart, very sexy sci-fi, opens wide and looks as if it’ll manage over $5 million. Call that a win for A24.

“The Water Diviner” is getting passable reviews (barely) but not a lot of theaters. The people who will never get over having gotten over Russell Crowe won’t make this much of a hit. Barely over $1 million on a few hundred screens. Pity.

The top spot is too tight to call This Sat. AM, with the romantic “Age of Adaline” a few thousand behind the fourth week of the Dead Paul Walker movie — “Furious 7.” Both look to be $16-17.

“Paul Blart 2″ plunged, but didn’t plummet.

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Alicia Vikander is no robot, though she plays one — convincingly — in “Ex Machina”

vikStarlet Alicia Vikander has her breakout role in the critically-adored/fanboy-hyped artificial intelligence thriller “Ex Machina.”
Playing a robot whose creator suspects she might pass for sentient Vikander shows a “placid inscrutability that can pass for either naivete or artful manipulation” Boston Globe movie critic Ty Burr raves, and Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post notes her “sensitivity and precise, balletic movements.”
At the moment, though, she’s juggling a cell phone and forgetting her native Swedish for a little Olde English profanity as she deals with luggage on arriving in Barcelona.
At 26, she’s been around long enough to earn some attention — in supporting roles in “Anna Karenina” with Keira Knightley and the Danish import “A Royal Affair” with Mads Mikkelsen.
But this year, no fewer than seven titles with her in them are showing up — from “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” to the Oscar bait biography of the first public sex-change operation survivor.
It is “Ex Machina” that may stand out down the road, though, thanks to a script from the “28 Days Later” screenwriter “with no stage directions, no real hints of how to play this robot.”
Writer-director Alex Garland “let me create her, on my own, from scratch.” Special effects erased her skin and substituted metal parts for her internal organs, and added the sound of servos whirring with every movement. And Garland gave Vikander one great stage direction.
“‘Go for as much ‘GIRL’ as you can,'” Vikander remembers him saying. “I kept that in my head, a machine being as much a girl as possible, and Alex let me try things out from day one, and over rehearsals that’s what I did. Play a girl, but find these little glitches in the program that give her away — a bit of speech here, an awkward, mechanical movement there.”
They decided not to totally erase the multi-lingual Vikander’s accent, “because that makes Ava a little exotic. Alex GOES for that!” She laughs.
And she and co-star Domhnall Gleeson, playing the computer nerd brought in to administer the “Turing Test,” questions that help determine whether a machine is thinking for itself, “kept little photographs of the effect that would render Alicia/Ava into a machine, “just to refer to, between takes. It reminded us both of who we were dealing with.”
Audiences need that reminder as well, as Vikander, in a mesh “Spiderman suit” that is partly erased by technology, makes us question what makes up our humanity.
“I don’t think any of us involved ever ‘set’ or said out loud just what we thought about that. But it was a question I had to ask with every single line my character said. ‘Am I AWARE of what I’m saying? Am I trying to GET something out of this? Or is this just a program, something I have had inputted into me?'”
Vikander, as many film critics have noted, is poker-faced as Ava, from first scene to last. And that might be the key to why “Ex Machina,” which opened wider April 24, works. With a little removal from the process — Barcelona is a good place for that — Vikander recalled what frightened her about the artificial intelligence dilemma that the script suggested, on first reading.
“You never know who to believe or who to trust, just as with most thrillers. But Ava is also sort of asking that question of trust herself, as well. We had to keep the expressing of emotions minimal,” she says. And, poker-faced as ever, she adds “We had to keep SOME of her secrets hidden, didn’t we?”


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Next interview: Questions for Arnold Schwarzenegger?

arnold-schwarzenegger-abigail-breslin-maggie-002You have never seen Arnold Schwarzenegger the way you see him in “Maggie.”

Compassionate, sad, he’s the father of a college age daughter (Abigail Breslin) who has to watch her decline after she is infected in the global “necro-virus” that is creating, you guessed it, zombies.

It’s very different from your average zombie picture or TV series and he is quite good, QUITE good, in setting the mournful tone of “waiting for the end” for his daughter, or civilization itself.

Of course, he has this other little movie coming up shortly, old school guns and cars and robots and whatnot. Maybe he’ll mention that.

But “Maggie” is a real departure — indie, somber, etc.

Questions for The Governor? Post them as comments below and thanks for the suggestion.

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Movie Review: Good intentions and a good cast can’t quite pull off the ambitious “Little Boy”

lilRacism and faith, hatred and friendship, bullying and war, atomic bombs and the consequences of using them — heavy stuff to pack into a faith-based film. And one aimed at children.
“Little Boy” is loaded with weighty subjects and teachable moments, all doled out between generous helpings of tragedy and sentiment. It’s ambitious, but a cluttered weeper whose lessons might have stuck, had there been fewer of them.
Pepper (Jakob Salvati) grows up during World War II, and has to send his best friend, his “partner,” his dad (Michael Rapaport) into combat in the Pacific. The teen brother (David Henrie) who didn’t qualify for service makes sure that Pepper, derisively nicknamed “Little Boy” by one and all, knows who to hate. Their nickname starts with a “J” and ends with an “ap.”
Little Boy finds his racism lessons interrupted when a kindly priest (Tom Wilkinson, superb) forces him to befriend the other most bullied person in their coastal California town — Hashimoto (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) — an older man just released from an internment camp.
The kid, just eight years old when the movie starts, is a huge fan of a comic book and movie serial magician, Ben Eagle (Ben Chaplin, cute), whose personal appearance at the local theater convinces Pepper and a lot of his peers that Little Boy has magical powers. In a child’s mind, faith and magic are given equal billing. Catholic teachings that “a mustard seed” of faith “can move mountains” leads to the confusion. But the priest guides Pepper’s Christian education, even if he’s not sure Pepper moved a mountain, that it could have just been an earthquake. And no, Pepper can’t end the war and save his father just by pointing his hands at the sun setting over Japan.
“Your faith won’t work if you have even the slightest bit of hatred in you,” he counsels, and the kids listens.
The director of the anti-abortion drama “Bella” will give you whiplash with his abrupt changes in tone. Newsreels and animation mimic the racist propaganda of the day, the teen brother, egged on by the grieving father (Ted Levine) of a casualty, takes up drinking and hate crimes. Mom (Emily Watson) weeps for her missing-in-action husband and is hounded by the opportunistic doctor (Kevin James) who thinks she’s a widow. The cute kid dreams of saving the day, and has nightmares about what another “Little Boy” did to Hiroshima.
“Little Boy” is all over the place and unsure of its audience. That “Touched by an Angel/Son of God” team, Roma Downey Jr. and husband Mark Burnett, produced and got melodrama into theaters. The “magic” of religion is challenged by the faithless, and the idea of literal miracles is pointedly dismissed.
But where would this “Little Boy” be without faith, without believing in something greater than all the woes that face his world? That lesson, and the kindly and sympathetic presence of Wilkinson, makes this scattered but upbeat serving of schmaltz more palatable than the angrier “God’s Not Dead” fare making it into theaters.

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some mature thematic material and violence

Cast: Jakob Salvati, Emily Watson, Tom Wilkinson, David Henrie and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
Credits: Directed by Alejandro Monteverde, written by Alejandro Monteverde and Pepe Portillo. An Open Road release.

Running time: 1:40

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Movie Review: “See You in Valhalla”

valYou see “Valhalla” in the title, you meet a young meth addict who dies “the Viking way.” There’s a spacey/druggie personal trainer moved to learn archery who hallucinates an order to “build an ark.” So unless you’re movie-math illiterate, you know where the movie’s going, pretty much from the get go.
So it’s a tribute to Steve Howey (above, far right) of Showtime’s “Shameless” that The Tarnol Brothers’ “See You in Valhalla” still manages a decent payoff. A scrappy/sappy dramedy about siblings who return, after their “Viking” brother’s death to the home they once fled, it covers over-familiar ground without much in the line of novelty.
A younger sister (Sarah Hyland of “Modern Family”) puts down the bottle long enough to leave the big city, accompanied by a not-her-boyfriend (Alex Frost) who invites himself along.
Barry (Bret Harrison) is the gay sibling who became a psychologist. Don (Michael Weston) is “the responsible one,” father of an insufferable Young Republican teenager (Odeya Rush). Don may be the one angriest at their once-absentee/now living with a hippy “nurse” (trippy Emma Bell) father (Conor O’Farrell).
And then there’s Barry’s beau, the Hawaiian stoner Makewi, played with a disconnected affability by Howey. He’s not the glue that holds this disjointed cliche of a comedy together, not the character who drags everybody to the bar so Jo (Hyland) can run into the ex-boyfriend (Beau Mirchoff) who once got her pregnant, not the one who confronts siblings’ passive father (too passively played), not the one with the most “issues.”
“So, what do you do for a living?” he’s asked.
“I live life.”
So, too, did the dead brother, named “Maxwell” but who took on the name “Magnus” after going through some sort of Viking-inspired rehab. Magnus died a glorious death, confronting the meth dealer whose wares killed his girlfriend. Magnus left behind writing, and an example.
“Face dragons head on,” he counseled. “This is the Viking way. Never give up.”
Makewi, goofball that he is, is the only one who hears him. Thank Odin for that, because otherwise, “Valhalla” wouldn’t be worth a visit, much less a life sentence.

MPAA Rating:  R for language, sexual references and drug use

Cast: Sarah Hyland, Steve Howey, Michael Weston, Bret Harrison, Odeya Rush,  Jake McDorman, Beau Mirchoff, Conor O’Farrell
Credits: Directed by Jarret Tarnol, written by Brent Tarnol. An ARC Entertainment release.

Running time: 1:21

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Movie Review: “The Age of Adaline”

ada2Hollywood long ago ceded “love that stands the test of time” to the realm of science fiction and fantasy, so “The Age of Adaline” falls neatly into a genre that includes “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” “About Time,” and even “Somewhere in Time.”
But building this film around all the willowy, world-weary grace that Blake “Gossip Girl” Lively can muster pays off. As a twentysomething who stopped aging 80 years ago, Lively suggests several lifetimes of experience in a love story that ranges from wistful to hopeful, a romance whose female half understands its consequences.
A pedantic narrator introduces Adaline under “her current alias,” Jenny, on New Year’s Eve of 2014, then backtracks to give a quasi-scientific explanation to the aging that stopped after an icy car wreck in the early 1930s. Widowed, we meet her child, see the first attentions her agelessness draws from law enforcement (in the paranoid McCarthy era) and watch her go underground — changing names, changing jobs, investing her money in long-shot stocks so that she’s never pressed for cash.
Now she works in the San Francisco city archives, and she and her retirement-age daughter (a sparkling Ellen Burstyn) are the only ones who know her secret.
Then a rich do-gooder of a suitor, Ellis (Dutch actor Michiel Huisman of TV’s “Game of Thrones”) fixes his eye on her. And her many polite rebuffs fail to deter him. Reluctantly, she falls for him.
The script cleverly has Adaline/Jenny catch herself, blowing off a come-on as something she first heard “from a young Bing Crosby…type.” Give Ellis a line that works. He quotes Leigh Hunt’s poem “Jenny Kiss’d Me.”
“Say I’m weary, say I’m sad. Say that health and wealth have miss’d me.
“Say I’m growing old, but add, Jenny kiss’d me.”
And for an hour, “Adaline” is warm and charming, with a somber edge. She’s buried generations of spaniels. She can’t bear to bury another lover.
Then Harrison Ford shows up for the third act as he and the ageless Kathy Baker play Ellis’s parents. And Ford, in a performance as affecting as any he’s ever given, lifts this romance in ways we never see coming.
But it’s Lively’s show, and she wears the period clothes and formal wear as easily as Adaline wears the burden of a body that never ages, even as the memory never forgets history learned, a language mastered or what love felt like when you last let yourself experience it.

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for a suggestive comment

Cast: Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, Kathy Bates, Harrison Ford
Credits: Directed by Lee Toland Krieger, script by J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz A Lionsgate/SKE release.

Running time: 1:50

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Movie Review: “The Water Diviner”

divinerThe century-old open wound of Gallipoli, Australia’s ill-fated entry into World War I, makes a vivid and grim backdrop for Russell Crowe’s “The Water Diviner,” a sensitive and sentimental story about a grieving father looking for the bodies of the three sons he lost there.
Joshua Connor (Crowe) works his Australian ranch alone, using his intuition and divining rods to hunt for water, his cattle dog his only conversation companion. His wife (Jacqueline McKenzie( stays busy polishing their sons’ shoes, reminding him to read to the kids from their favorite book — “The Arabian Nights” — at bedtime.
But he reads to three empty beds. The boys went off on adventure four years before, and like thousands of their countrymen, didn’t come home from the Turkish peninsula that Winston Churchill sent them to invade. When Connor’s mad wife dies, he resolves to go fetch those sons and bury them beside her. If anybody can find their bodies, he can.
In Turkey, he runs into the prickly efficiency of British Army bureaucracy and Turkish resentment and disorder. It’s 1919, and the Turks, Brits and ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) are trying to get along well enough to locate and bury the 10,000 ANZAC dead (70,000 Turks died in the battle).
They play semantic games — the winners referring to “Constantinople” and their “evacuation,” the Turks calling their capital “Istanbul” and the Aussie’s departure a “retreat.”
Connor finds an unlikely ally in the stern Turkish Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdogan), a proud man who doesn’t like the nickname “Hassan the Assassin” the Aussies gave him. And thanks to an over-helpful child ( Dylan Georgiades), Connor finds a nice hotel, “Clean sheets, hot water, no Germans!” That’s where he meets the boy’s beautiful, widowed and hostile mother (Olga Kurylenko).
Crowe directed this with an ear and eye for the sentimental, matching his performance. Connor noble, quiet but determined in his grief, which Hassan, unlike the Brits, recognizes.
“May you outlive your children,” he reminds Connor, is not a Middle Eastern blessing, but a curse.
Connor, guilt-stricken because he didn’t stop his boys from going, knowing that he filled their heads with “Arabian Nights” adventures, closes his eyes and can see the horror of how his boys died. The movies make such deaths neat and final. Not Crowe. We are not spared the moans and screams of those bleeding out on the battle field.
But the film’s forgive and move on message goes a bit overboard for a story set in 1919. The Turks, allied with the Central Powers, are the aggrieved party here. Yes, “You invaded us” is a good start to looking at the war through the other side’s eyes, but making the corrupt, decaying, murderously oppressive Ottoman Empire the “victim” of Greek invaders (a postwar uprising) and shifting sympathies in that direction is eye rolling. Ask the Armenians about that.
Still, the performances are moving and get the job done, and Kurylenko (“Quantum of Solace”) wins us over by the way she slowly lets Connor, her enemy, win her sympathy.
“I measure a man by how much he loves his children,” she tells him, “not by what the world has done to them.”

MPAA Rating: R for war violence including some disturbing images

Cast: Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Yilmaz Erdogan, Jai Courtney, Dylan Georgiades
Credits: Directed by Russell Crowe, written by Andrew Knight, Andrew Anastasios. A Warner Brothers release.

Running time: 1:51

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“Tomorrow” — the third trailer, is this Walt Disney’s theme park come to (cinematic) life?

The mysterious and cryptic early talk about Disney’s “Tomorrowland” (May 22) is that it connected with early ideas that Walt Disney himself had — notes — about the Tomorrowland part  of the theme parks, and a possible movie tied into them.

The third action-packed trailer to the most anticipated movie of the summer suggests something more conventional — effects, action beats, George Clooney yelling “Come on,” and cracking “You ain’t seen NOTHIN’ yet.” But it still seems to connect with Walt’s expansive, fanciful 1950s idea of what the sci-fi “future” would look like.

It looks like fun. And maybe it means they’ll finally update and spend the money on that concept of their parks, using the movie as an excuse. I hope so.

But the movie? It looks like a trip.

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Movie Review: “After the Ball” updates “Cinderella,” with a touch of “Twelfth Night”


1half-starEvery girl, Disney has always told us, wants that slipper to fit. And with a new generation indoctrinated thanks to the latest “Cinderella,” that taste for tiaras isn’t going away any time soon.
Nor, it would appear, is the story — put-upon poor girl gets a makeover to battle her wicked stepmother and even more wicked stepsisters, a build-up for the big “ball,” the lost shoe that gives away the game.
“After the Ball” is a frothy little nothing of a Canadian updating of “Cinderella” set in the Canadian fashion industry. But the shoe doesn’t quite fit in this slow-footed farce, a vehicle for pretty blonde Portia Doubleday (“Youth in Revolt”).
Kate (Doubleday) is a new graduate from New York fashion school forced to work for her father’s affordable (OK, “cut-rate knockoffs”) Canadian clothing line. Because Prada turns up its nose at her.
“With your pedigree, who would hire you?”
But to succeed at Kassell Clothes she has to get past her scheming stepmom (Lauren Holly) and “her two devil spawn” stepsisters (Natalie Krill, Anna Hopkins, not bad), who are untrained “designers” set up to be Kate’s bosses.
“If I wanted you to have an idea, I’d give it to you.”
Kate? She’s been set up to fail. Which she does. But her vintage clothes-dealing godmother (Mimi Kuzyk) and godmom’s theatrical gay pal (Carlo Rota) conspire to send pushover Kate back into the company as hard-driving diva designer Nate Ganymede. She will become a he, “You know, like in like ‘Twelfth Night'” her not-fairy godmother exclaims.
Daniel (Marc-Andre Grondin) is the colorless shoe designer Kate is sweet on, but who can never know who Nate really is if  Nate is to use Kate’s designs to “save the company.”
But everything will become clear “After the Ball.”
The trouble with material this worn is the same that Kenneth Branagh ran into with “Cinderella.” We know what’s coming, so just get on with it.
Doubleday does her best Amanda Bynes but is not remotely convincing as a guy. But the pushy swagger she throws out there as Nate is kind of fun.
The stepsisters are stupidly vile even if the assorted gay men folded into this fashion industry tale never are more than stereotypes with a single funny line between them.
Montreal isn’t showcased in the locations, Chris Noth, as the dad, has nothing to play save for the chic glasses his clueless (and callous) character wears. Holly (“Jerry Maguire”) is still the queen of mean.
But none of it adds up to anything we haven’t seen before and don’t see coming long before this Cinderella’s shoe drops. Literally.

MPAA Rating: Unrated, with no profanity and a little cross-dressing.

Cast: Portia Doubleday, Chris Noth, Lauren Holly, Marc-André Grondin, Mimi Kuzyk
Credits: Directed by  Sean Garrity, written by  Kate Melville, Jason Sherman. A Freestyle release.

Running time: 1:40

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