Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Age of Adaline, Tangerines, Black Souls, 24 Days

The Age of Adaline

Black Souls
24 Days

I'll be moving this weekend and probably won't get to much new stuff, but here are capsules on last week's releases:

Let's start with one of the dumb-bunny movies of all time, "The Age of Adaline." Blake Lively (whose face never moves) stars as Adaline Bowman, a 109-year-old woman who stopped aging at 29 after being struck by lightning following an automobile accident. (Hugh Ross' pseudoscientific narration - "At precisely 9:16 p.m. on the night of January 1, 1935, Adaline Bowman experienced an anoxic reaction…" - makes you want to punch his lights out.) Adaline gets picked up by some Feds who want to study her, makes one of the least convincing escapes in movie history, and vows to live a life of multiple identities, never staying anywhere longer than ten years or allowing herself to fall in love. She meets occasionally with her daughter, played by Ellen Burstyn in scenes that seem to exist solely for visual shock value (that's not really there). 

Enter Ellis Jones, a stalker-ish philanthropist (Michiel Huisman, who may be handsome somewhere under all that awful facial hair) who won't take no for an answer and reminds her how good a man's touch feels. After much cajoling, she agrees to a weekend in the country with his parents (Kathy Baker and Harrison Ford), who are celebrating their 40th anniversary. This leads to the most laughable scene in the movie, in which Ellis needs his dad's car to chase after Adaline (who's up and left again). "Do you love her?" Ford asks. "I do," Ellis answers, upon which Ford smiles and throws him the keys. Oh, P.S.: Ford had his own affair with Adaline during the war. It's that kind of picture. At exactly 8:58 p.m. on the night of April 24, 2015, I gagged.

Estonia's "Tangerines" is the last of 2014's foreign language Oscar nominees to make its U.S. debut, and like "Leviathan," "Timbuktu" and "Wild Tales," it merits three stars. ("Ida," which won because of its Holocaust theme, received one-and-one-half stars, and on our podcast both Adrienne and I named it the worst nomination of the year.) It has evident flaws, about which more forthwith, but succeeds in making you feel you're right there in the little Georgian country house owned by Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak), an Estonian immigrant farmer who stays to help his friend Margus pick and crate his bumper crop of tangerines even as Ivo's family returns to Estonia when war breaks out between the Georgians and Abkhazian separatists.

After hearing an exchange of gunfire up the hill, Ivo and Margus investigate, finding two soldiers badly hurt but still alive and bringing them to Ivo's to recuperate. Niko, a soft-spoken Georgian, is in direst straits; Ahmed, a boisterous Abkhazian soldier (who, with a now-dead comrade, had earlier extorted provisions from Ivo), threatens to kill Niko, but Ivo makes him give his word he will not do so in the house. A tense cease-fire holds, though epithets are exchanged and musical tastes excoriated. At one point, a passing troop of Abkhazians conducts an impromptu inspection, requiring Niko to remain mute and pass as Ahmed's fallen friend Ibrahim. As the days pass - with no sign of the thirty men a contact in Tbilisi had pledged Ivo to help with the tangerine harvest - relations between Ahmed and Niko thaw a bit too quickly for credulity, and writer-director Zaza Urushadze imparts on-the-nose lessons about our common humanity and the meaninglessness of war. Still, you feel that you've been in that ramshackle little house with its fence of wooden sticks, waiting for a return to normalcy that may never come.

The Mafia vendetta saga "Black Souls" ("Anime Nere") aspires to a "Godfather"-esque sense of the dreadful inescapability of the cycle of violence. It involves the brothers Luigi and Rocco Carbone, high-flying drug traffickers out of Milan, and a third, Luciano, who has remained in their ancestral Calabrian mountain town of Africo to herd goats. Luciano's son, Leo, scoffs at his father's old ways, and burns to join his uncles in the city. On his way out, he shoots up the town bar, reigniting a dormant family feud. The trouble with "Black Souls" is that none of the characters has been fully fleshed out - only the striking Giuseppe Fumo, as Leo, makes an impression - so the movie feels like a chess game manipulated by director Francesco Munzi. The backstory behind the centuries-old dispute is also thin. You can't throw your hands up and ask "Why does it matter?" before giving us a better idea of why it matters to them.

Finally, a solid recommendation for "24 Days," Alexandre Arcady's engrossing dramatization of the real-life kidnapping of a sweet young Parisian cell phone salesman named Ilan Halimi. Arcady tells the story from three perspectives: Ilan's indignant and fiercely protective mother, Ruth (Zabou Breitman), and taciturn, inward-looking father, Didier (Pascal ElbĂ©); the police, including a psychologist trained in hostage negotiations (Sylvie Testud), who work through the night for Ilan's return; and Youssouf Fofana (Tony Harrisson), the Ivorian brains behind the street-level long con that bagged Ilan (involving a gorgeous girl who entered his store, flirted with him, and got his phone number to set up a date).

What we learn early on - and only Ruth grasps in time - is that Ilan was chosen because he is Jewish. Youssouf's ragtag group is motivated by both anti-Semitic animus and the mistaken hypothesis that he must come from money. When another store owner is brought in and accused of the kidnapping because of a series of phone calls from the same shill, only Ruth takes note of his comment that he blew her off because she called on Friday night when he was with his family for dinner. Among the uniformly strong performances, I will remember Breitman's in particular, her face a haunting portrait of the cost of not recognizing and calling out anti-Semitism urgently. 

What happens when the police ignore references - subtle and un-subtle - to hatred of Jews and treat the kidnapping as motivated purely by financial gain? Ilan dies. What happens when, for fear of insulting the Muslims in our midst, we refuse to call Islam what it is - a hate group in the guise of a religion? When we insist on pretending that it's only a few rotten apples giving Islam a bad name, and deluding ourselves that most Muslims want to coexist peacefully? People die and will continue to die. That's Islam's gift to the civilized world: barbarism, evil, terror and death.

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