Blake Lively on getting older, figuring out which decades fashions work for her in “The Age of Adaline”

adaoline1Blake Lively says she loves the idea of getting older. The original “Gossip Girl” has gone on the record about enjoying aging out of girlhood. But in youth-obsessed Hollywood, married to Ryan Reynolds in a wedding featured in Martha Stewart’s magazine, new mother of a little girl named James,” on top of the world, can she afford to be frank about age?
“I’m 27, so I can say ‘YEAH. Bring it on.’ But at 27, you haven’t really experienced it. So ask me again in 20-30 years. Maybe I’ll complain. Then.”
Lively has been mulling the age thing thanks to her latest film. The critically-acclaimed romance “The Age of Adaline” (opening April 24) has her playing a young woman trapped in young womanhood, immortalized in her twenties since the 1930s, loving and losing loved ones, watching the daughter she gave birth to reach her dotage while Adaline herself is forever young.
Adaline “longs to grow old,” Lively says. “Maybe there’s something in her that wants to grow old with the various men in her life. But far more important to her is the fear that she’s going to outlive her daughter. To have your daughter in her 80s while you’re trapped in your 20s…for a parent to see her child start to lose her memory, lose her strength and her independence, brings out the protector she knows she’s supposed to be… But age is something you can’t protect them from. ”
Lively plays Adaline through the ages as world-wise. Adaline uses the added years to master foreign languages. But as the decades pass, she’s increasingly world-weary.
“She’s seen what humanity can do to itself, in the 1940s.” She is hunted by a suspicious FBI in the McCarthy Era 1950s. And Adaline has loved and lost. It’s made her wary, avoiding romantic entanglements not just “out of guilt, on her part,” Lively says. “That’s the selfless way of looking at it. The selfish way of thinking about it is that it’s really, really painful to lose someone you love. She’s protecting herself from that. She’s been through it more than once, and it’s awful.”
That grief hits home in the film the moment we see that Adaline has a pet. We know what’s coming, just as she does.
“I’d do a take,”Lively recalls, “and the producers would come to me and say, ‘OK. THAT was a way to go with that. You were very emotional. Maybe try REELING it in a little.'”
Lively laughs.
“And I was just sobbing. ‘I CAN’T.’ I’ve experienced that, losing a dog…Not much in life rivals that feeling.”
Lively’s sensitive performance in “Adaline” is earning glowing early reviews, as is the film, described as “a generation defining love story that will permeate our collective cultural memory” by Ellen Beck of FilmLink Australia.
The Vogue model and cl0thes-conscious fashionista in Lively has a tip for careful filmwatchers. Pay attention to the costumes. It’s not just foreign languages and romantic leeriness that she carries with her over the course of a century.
“Watch the movie closely for these little fashion ‘easter eggs.’ You’ll see things she was wearing in the ’20s return — in the ’40s and in the ’60s,” Lively says. “Stuff she wore in the ’30s comes back in the early ’60s.
“Some decades were good for me — but not the ’20s or ’60s, with their kind of shapeless lines. The ’40s and ’50s, sharp lines and tight waisted dresses and pants? That worked for me and it worked for Adaline. So of course she’d hang on to those clothes!”

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Movie Review: “Adult Beginners”

adultb“Adult Beginners” started life as a showcase for comic writer-actor Nick Kroll, who concocted the story. But any notion that the star of “Kroll Show” might reinvent himself with this film goes out the window when first we meet Jake, a fast-talking entrepreneur who has hustled every friend he has, and then some, into investing in “Mind’s I,” a Google Glass knockoff that failed.
Jake is just another version of Kroll’s recurring character on TV’s “Parks & Recreation,” whose nickname is a feminine hygeine product.
He’s self-absorbed enough to think fleeing to visit his pregnant, mother-of-a-toddler sister (Rose Byrne) unannounced won’t be an inconvenience.
“I need you to make me feel better,” a Summer’s Eve-by-any-other-name whines.
Since he’s broke, his too-understanding brother-in-law (Bobby Cannavale, playing another contractor) suggests he and Justine hire Jake a babysitter — their “manny” nanny.
So make way for the potty chair jokes, the hyperactive “devil child” wisecracks, substituting a suitcase with wheels when you can’t figure out how to work the stroller and flirt-with-the-other-nanny-in-the-park (Paula Garces) scenes as this narcissist figures out it’s not all about him.
Kroll is fitfully amusing, and packaged with Joel McHale as his best “bro” and mirror image in the city is good for laughs. But what works best is the extended family dynamic. Byrne and Kroll have a nice estranged sibling chemistry, not up to “The Skeleton Twins,” but in that ballpark.
Where are his glasses? She hasn’t seen Jake in years.
“Lasik.”
“Your eyes look kind of buggy.”
“Yeah, that’s the look I was going for.”
The second act complications are predictable, the third act revelations mild. Director Ross Katz, a producer with a couple of Sofia Coppola pictures, including “Lost in Translation,” in his credits, does little to disguise just how on the nose this script is.
But Kroll knows how to make bug-eyed feminine hygeine product characters funny, and since Byrne, Cannavale, Garces and McHale accept that about him, so do we.

2stars1

MPAA Rating: R for language and some drug use.

Cast: Rose Byrne, Nick Kroll, Bobby Cannavale, Paula Garces, Joel McHale
Credits: Directed by Ross Katz, written by Jeff Cox and Liz Flahive. A Radius/TWC release.

Running time: 1:30

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Movie Review: “24 Days” is a lax, submissive French kidnapping thriller

24dThe French kidnapping thriller “24 Days” is a true story, an opening narration tells us (in French, with English subtitles), “all too true.”
It’s about the disappearance of a handsome young womanizer, nabbed by men in cahoots with a temptress who winked in his direction. It’s about police efforts to “manage” the kidnappers, to get the family on the same page — seizing the initiative in a way the improves the odds for getting their son back alive.
And it’s about this Jewish family’s inability to get the cops to let them go public and the police refusal to treat this as a hate crime.
Ilan (Syrus Shahidi) may have a girlfriend and a wandering eye. But he’d never be late for Shabbat. His sister (Alka Balbir) is the wrong one to call with the ransom demands. She goes into hysterics. Narrator Mom (Zabou Breitman) seems in shock. They’re not a rich family.
Her ex-husband (Pascal Elbé) may be poker-faced, but when he gets involved, he picks up the give-away buzzwords from the threatening, insulting calls. The family is Jewish, so of course “you have money.” If not, “ask the Jewish community.” The odd Islamic chant pops up. When the police get involved, they trace the calls — to the Ivory Coast.
But the police, led by Commandant Delcour (Jacques Gamblin) treat this like any other kidnapping. Their record is unblemished in these cases. They will get Ilan out and catch the perpetrators.
Any insults from the hothead leader of the kidnappers (Tony Harrisson? “Hang up.” There’s a police psychologist and others urging the family to “get the upper hand” in this “game.”
“We must keep to our strategy!”
Meanwhile, Ilan suffers and his family grieves that they will never see him again, because Islamists kidnapped him for being Jewish.
“24 Days” isn’t the tightest of thrillers, threading police work through the story of a family simmering with outrage at having their tragedy compounded by police insensitivity.
The performances are engrossing — especially Harrisson as the short-tempered African Muslim. But veteran director Alexandre Arcady (“Last Summer in Tangiers,” “Hold Up”) seems more concerned with the message and moral lesson here than with suspense. The result is a first act so short on details that we lose track of the victim, a second act that drags through kidnapping management by cops only to have the action pick up nicely in the overlong finale.
Perhaps the title lulled him into the lack of urgency for 90 of the 110 minutes of “24 Days.” Days are wasted by the cops, and precious screen minutes are wasted by the director before even attempting to ratchet up the suspense and tension.

2stars1
MPAA Rating: unrated, with violence, adult situations
Cast: Zabou Breitman, Pascal Elbé, Jacques Gamblin, Syrus Shahidi
Credits: Directed by Alexandre Arcady, written by Alexandre Arcady, Emilie Frèche and Antoine Lacomblez. A Menemsha Films release.

Running time: 1:50

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Movie Review: “The Forger”

forgeThe stakes shouldn’t feel as low as they do in “The Forger.” An art theft thriller about stealing one of the most famous paintings by Claude Monet should have been a suspenseful peek into the criminal art forger’s craft, a Boston underworld character study built around accomplished stars such as John Travolta in the title role, Christopher Plummer, Tye Sheridan and Jennifer Ehle in support.
But it has none of the above, “craft” being the most telling omission.
No matter how well-preserved he seems here, Travolta feels out of his depth as a forger who buys his way out of prison by promising a favor to the thug (Anson Mount) who put him there. Travolta is years past being able to pull off the hard-man-of-the-yard routine, punching his way out of encounters with his past.
Keegan (Mount) wants “The Forger,” Ray Cutter, to knock off “La Promenade: Woman with Parasol,” by Monet, to settle a debt. Ray’s old man (Christopher Plummer) responds to that with a torrent of profanity. That’s his response to everything. Cute.
The reason Ray had to get out early? A cancer-stricken son (Sheridan, of “Mud” and “Joe”). The cop on his case? Agent Paisley (Abigail Spencer).
Ray has to study Monet, buy an aged canvas and fake the paints and painting style of Claude Monet, figure out the heist, deal with the old man’s grousing, Keegan’s threats and the kid’s “make a wish” wishes — like wanting to meet his mother, who turns out to be a junky played by Ehle (“Zero Dark 30,” “Pride & Prejudice”).
Ray? His wish is to “move to Tahiti and live like Gauguin.”
Not much we see here puts him on that path or makes us invest in his dilemma. Travolta summons up moments of Vinnie Barbarino in searching for a Boston accent, few others in the cast try even that hard.
The kid’s “wishes” aren’t touching, the heist is blase, the painting mimicry is given such short shrift that it involves little more than Travolta tilting his head and squinting.  We always knew his laziness was going to catch up with him.
And the finale is the least believable bit of all.
The screenwriter of “The Call” was behind this, so the lack of suspense probably isn’t his doing. The director is from British TV, which is usually a better training ground for features than this artless time-killer suggests.
Among that promising cast, only Plummer and Ehle give us anything more than paint-by-numbers turns. Travolta? He’s a pale imitation of himself, as ill-fitted to the role as that odd prison soul patch he sports under Ray’s carefully streaked mop of hair.

1half-star
MPAA Rating: R for language and some violence

Cast: John Travolta, Christopher Plummer, Abigail Spencer, Jennifer Ehle, Tye Sheridan, Anson Mount
Credits: Directed by Philip Martin, written by Richard D’Ovidio. A Lionsgate release.

Running time: 1:35

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“The Force Awakens: — Who’s the “old man” and “furball” now, eh?

OK, that’s snarky. But whatever the “Star Wars” continuation promises, I don’t expect much in the way of out-of-body novelty that the first film delivered.

It has sentiment going for it, 40 years of improvements in effects, a cooler rollerball robot. Who in that cast, in this teaser trailer, pops off the screen, says “I’m the next big thing?”

I get a nice sense of a galaxy ravaged and ruined by war, foolish aliens still living in deserts and storm troopers signing up for more storm trooping. i09 has a nice photo gallery of costumes and props that point to the new look, which characters will be around, etc.

The teaser is good, as far as it goes. But I’m not sold on this or a “Jurassic” continuation based on what I’m seeing and hearing thus far.

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Movie Review: “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2″

b2Hello Paul Blart, our old friend. We’ve come to laugh at you again.
At the fat jokes that just keep coming. Giggles certain we will be receiving.
But the theater just echoes with the sounds…of silence.
Sorry, when a movie falls as flat, when every joke and gag has a “just grind through it” quality, the mind wanders.
“Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2″ is even more of a kids’ movie than the 2009 original — slapstick and sight gags built around a clueless plump lump. It’s harmless, and Kevin James tries to find a place among the cinema’s pratfall kings.
“They say overweight people use humor to achieve affection,” one wag cracks during the film. So it is with James. Watch the way he takes a tumble, sells a creaky gag that has Blart bouncing off a store window or overdoes his cop slide across the slick floor. Check out the effort he put into making Blart only graceful on a Segway, his mall patrol vehicle of choice.
It’s a shame none of this stuff ever rises above a slight grin.
Blart has married and had a quicky divorce since “Mall Cop 1,” and here he and zaftig daughter Maya (Raini Rodriguez of TV’s “Austin & Ally”) visit Las Vegas for a “fake cop” convention at the Wynn Resort.
Neal McDonough is the villain leading a team of crooks in an attempted art heist. Blart, mocked and underestimated by crooks and his peers, springs into action after Maya and this cute valet she’s flirting with are taken hostage.
The lines, many written by James himself, flop.
“Security is a mission, not an INTERmission.”
James tries too hard. He mugs like A & W, punches bad dialogue as if he’s never told a joke and strains to make the pratfalls land. The studio didn’t spend a dime on giving him anybody funny to play off of — Ana Gasteyer and Loni Love and Gary Valentine? Nothing funny to say or do, here.
Sequels are cynical by nature, but this one, with its casino product placement ad and director Andy Fickman apparently checking his text messages instead of trying punch the limp gags into shape, is  purely a paycheck. James may not deserve better, but the kids they’re pitching this to do.

1star6

MPAA Rating: PG for some violence

Cast: Kevin James, Raini Rodriguez, Neal McDonough
Credits: Directed by Andy Fickman, written by Kevin James and Nick Bakay. A Sony/Columbia release.

Running time: 1:34

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Movie Review: “Unfriended”

unf“Unfriended” is nothing to look at — just a notebook computer screen, pages folded into pages of a teenager’s night of instant messaging, video chatting, Google searching, music streaming, Youtube watching and Facebooking.
A tale told in real time, it’s pretty uncinematic.
But what it has is a great gimmick, a play on the meme “The Internet is Forever.” What if every digital indiscretion a group of Fresno high schoolers’ ever uploaded was accessed and shoved into their faces? What if the entity assaulting them, revealing their worst moments, their lies and infidelities, was someone they knew who was cyber-bullied to death?
The logical online extension of “The Blair Witch Project,” “Paranormal Activity” and “The Ring,” “Unfriended” begins with “Laura Burns Kill Urself,” a Youtube video of a suicide. Blaire (Shelly Hennig of “Oujia”), whose computer we are seeing this through, knew Laura (Heather Sossaman).
Blaire’s multi-tasking, of course, video stripping for her boyfriend Matt (Moses Jacob Storm). They’re interrupted when several friends jump into the conversation. What are you two doing?
“Going to hell with the rest of us,” Jess (Renee Olstead of “The Secret Life of an American Teenager”). Jess is in charge of foreshadowing.
Because nobody invited them into Blaire and Matt’s supposedly private moment. And there’s a person they don’t know logged in with them. “That creeper Skype dude?” Maybe.
But she says she’s Laura Burns. And before they can all link to a “Do not answer messages from the dead!” website warning, they’re trapped online with someone-something that wants to confront them, turn them on each other and punish them.
“If you hang up,” the words blip up on an instant message, “your friends die.”
Director Levan Gabriadze has a limited field of view to work with — essentially what half a dozen computer cameras, and the occasional previously-uploaded video can see — and a limited ambition — to create “dead teenagers,” one by one. His young actors, playing cardboard cutouts (nerd, popular Romeo, oversexed blonde), emote and panic front of a camera through long takes.
It’s up to the viewer to pick out which inserted screen to watch. The menace is more implied than explicit, and the effect tends to dissipate tension. There are reasons the camera is supposed to direct your eye to a certain place, even in the ADHD era.
We can laugh at the banal/profane banter, kids barking at their peers for not knowing “how the email works” when they can’t figure out how to forward a Gmail.
But we don’t really feel for anybody, including the original victim, whose cyber-bullying originated in a humiliating video that begins with her drunkenly threatening somebody at a party.
The subtext — beware what privacy you give up when you post, and don’t IM with strangers — is familiar, but nothing remotely as biting and poignant as the sex-can-kill-you-and-make-you-a-killer  message of the superior and just as cheap, “It Follows.”
All we’re really in the end is the gimmick and an appreciation for how cleverly it comes off. And a reminder to not “answer messages from the dead.”

2half-star6

MPAA Rating: R for violent content, pervasive language, some sexuality, and drug and alcohol use – all involving teens

Cast: Shelley Hennig, Heather Sossaman, Moses Jacob Storm, Jacob Wysocki,  Will Peltz, Renee Olstead, Courtney Halverson
Credits: Directed by Levan Gabriadze, written by Nelson Greaves. A Universal release.

Running time: 1:21

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Movie Review: Hill and Franco don’t avoid spoiler alerts in “True Story”

truuu

One is a newly-disgraced New York Times reporter desperately in search of a career-reviving scoop.
The other is a newly-captured accused murderer, a man who who has been on the lam using the Times reporter’s identity as he fled the country.
They’re roughly the same age, both opportunists and story tellers, each cynical enough to use the other. That’s only enriched by casting pals Jonah Hill and James Franco as the co-dependent couple, forcing each to not trust and maybe fear the other.
Equal parts sobering and chilling, “True Story” is about the ways journalists are willingly used to get the story. It is “Capote” with a commentary on journalistic ethics, but without the emotional heft.
Hill is Michael Finkel, whose high-flying career as a foreign correspondent is derailed when he conflates characters and events in a story on slavery in modern Africa. He retreats to Montana, to Jill (Felicity Jones), his indulgent but tough-minded significant other.
Then Christian Longo is captured in Mexico City. He was using Finkel’s name because he was on the run. He’s accused of killing his wife and children in Oregon. Finkel is intrigued, beguiled when he meets the quiet and charming Longo (Franco). Finkel still has an eye for the main chance, and this guy is gold. He’s a fan (thus, the assumed name). And he’s willing to talk. To Finkel.
“I can’t tell you what really happened,” the accused killer purrs. “I know what it’s like to avoid the truth.”
Indeed. They both have a feel for that.
Rupert Goold’s more-or-less-true film plays up Franco’s sweetly seductive side, and Hill’s dramatic gift for cold-bloodedness. Franco adds a touch of remoteness, and Hill a calculating undercurrent as these two spar over “the truth,” what the State might be able to prove and what Finkel might know that could turn the case, one way or the other.
The ways the crime is discussed, differing versions of reality, range from heart-breaking to puzzling. Finkel comes off as willing to use everyone — an enterprising local reporter (Ethan Suplee), Longo, law enforcement, even Jill — to get a book out of this tragedy.
But despite Franco’s best efforts, Goold’s film (he co-wrote the script) does a poor job of misdirecting us. The reporter/convict dynamic doesn’t have enough layers to carry the film without some hint of mystery. The relationship between the two, chilling as it is, never raises this “Story” from generic to profound.

3stars2

MPAA Rating: R for language and some disturbing material

Cast: Jonah Hill, Josh Lucas, Felicity Jones

Credits: Directed by Rupert Goold, script by Goold and David Kajganich, based on Michael Finkel’s memoir. A Fox Searchlight release.

Running time: 1:40

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Movie Review: “Monkey Kingdom” is a nature doc with a hint of social commentary

mk“Monkey Kingdom,” Disneynature’s latest Earth Day offering, is an intriguing peek inside the social structure of Macaque monkey society in Sri Lanka.
So while it’s got plenty of cute Macaque monkeys, playing and cavorting, there’s also a little social commentary in the mirror the monkey movie holds up to us.
It’s about Maya, a young female trapped, by birth, among “the low born.” The alpha male and three testy red-faced queens, “the sisters,” get the dry sleeping quarters, the ripest figs in the top of the tree, first pick of the mushrooms and assorted other fruits that make up the diet of their tribe of 50.
Maya, as Tina Fey narrates, “gets the scraps. This is what it means to be last in line.”
When she has a baby by a displaced male looking for a community to join, her story becomes a single mom’s tale, protecting tiny Kip from a monitor lizard and other external dangers, and the cruelty of “the sisters” and an unjust social hierarchy.
Heavy stuff, not that the very young members of Generation ADHD will catch all of it.
But they may be bothered by the violence. Macaque cliques go at it, with their vampire fangs flashing and expressive eyebrows expressing rage in attacks designed to uproot Maya’s tribe from Castle Rock and the abandoned ancient Sri Lankan city that they call home.
“Monkey Kingdom” begins cloyingly, with frolicking set to “Hey Hey We’re the Monkees.” The arrival of Kumar, Maya’s monkey-love, prompts a cover of Salt-n-Peppa and En Vogue’s “Whatta Man.”
And even the violence and social commentary to come is leavened by comical food raids on humanity — a child’s birthday party is ruined, a town market is overwhelmed by wily, quick-witted and light-fingered Macaques.
But entertainment value and catering to their very young audience aside, “Chimpanzee” filmmakers Mark Linfield and Alastair Fothergill never stray far from the overarching mission of Disney’s noblest film endeavor — capturing natural worlds and animal behavior at its rawest. The gorgeous flora and fauna of Sri Lanka are well-represented, even as the monkey business ranges from cute to cutesy.

3stars2

MPAA Rating: G

Cast: Narrated by Tina Fey
Credits: Written and directed by Mark Linfield, Alastair Fothergill. A Disneynature release.

Running time: 1:21

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Movie Review: A civil war revolves around fruit harvest in “Tangerines”

tan“Tangerines,” Estonia’s Oscar-nominee for best foreign language film this past year, is a parable of peace set during the Georgian civil war. That’s when Muslim Chechnya declared its independence from Christian Georgia just after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
It is “The Citrus War,” Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak) mutters. “They fight for the land where my tangerines grow.”
Ivo is Estonian, as is his neighbor and partner Margus (Elmo Nüganen). They haven’t fled the war because they have a bumper crop of fruit in their orchards. The elderly Ivo is building crates, Margus is picking away. And both are hoping to hire a few soldiers to get the tangerines picked and crated and sold off.
If only the fighting would let up. They’re removed from it, above it. Until a shootout leaves a wounded Muslim mercenary (Giorgi Nakashidze) and more badly-wounded Georgian (Misha Meskhi) stuck in Ivo’s remote farmhouse, recovering, threatening each other, just waiting for their health or their comrades to return so that they can finish things with each other.
Writer-director Zaza Urushadze maintains tension as we wait for the violence we know is coming. But his camera shares Ivo’s appreciation for the stark beauty of this Caucasian setting — fruit trees filled with huge tangerines, the foggy breath that says winter is coming to these rolling, greying hills. The actors are attired like the muddy roads, battered vehicles and guns of the bearded, unwashed and little-trained combatants.
Ahmed, the mercenary, prays and goads Niko. Niko, the Georgian, tries to get the tape back into a damaged cassette, a song from home. And Ivo, the foreigner, tries to keep the peace long enough to make his two bloodied patients see the senselessness of the war they’re fighting.
“Tangerines” is a simple tale, sharply drawn and smartly told, a portrait of a people, a place and a centuries-old conflict that this wise yet myopic citrus farmer cannot get his mind around any more than we can.

3stars2
MPAA Rating: unrated, with graphic violence

Cast: Lembit Ulfsak, Elmo Nüganen, Giorgi Nakashidze, Misha Meskhi, Raivo Trass
Credits: Written and directed by Zaza Urushadze. A Samuel L. Goldwyn release.

Running time: 1:27

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