Blake Lively

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Movie studios typically release their biggest films during the summer, which leaves April out in the cold. A look outside the major studios, however, reveals several promising films set to release during the under-appreciated spring month. James Franco dons an orange jumpsuit in his role as a sociopathic convicted murderer in his upcoming film “True Story,” Blake Lively reminds us of her eternal beauty in a drama about a woman who can’t age past 29 years old in “Age of Adaline,” and 7-year-old Jakob Salvati realizes his magical abilities in a father and son World War II drama.

True Story

Jonah Hill and James Franco switch gears from the ridiculous humor of their last collaborative effort “This Is The End” to a dark psychological thriller entitled “True Story.” Based on actual events of the early 2000s, “True Story” follows an ex-New York Times journalist (Hill) who finds himself involved with a convicted murderer (Franco) who has mysteriously assumed his identity. Ironically, the New York Times said in a 2013 article that the film's portrayal of events is not wholly true, but rather relies on the dramatics of Hollywood.

National Release Date: April 17

Where: Violet Crown

Little Boy

This movie is the definition of heartwarming. In “Little Boy,” a young boy realizes his literal ability to move mountains in an attempt to bring his father home alive from World War II. Painfully cute 7-year-old Jakob Salvati stars as the little boy, carrying most of the film with his blue eyes, charisma and charm. The film has the magical quality and attention-to-detail of a Disney classic, but it comes from Mexican filmmaker and UT radio-television-film alumnus Alejandro Monteverde.  

National Release Date: April 24

Where: Regal Westgate

Roar

Drafthouse Films is re-releasing this hidden gem from 1981 for one week in Austin. “Roar,” the self-proclaimed “most dangerous film ever made,” follows a wildlife preservationist who lives among a pack of untamed animals including lions, tigers, cheetahs and elephants. Animal trainers warned husband and wife producing duo Tippi Hedren and Noel Marshall that the film was a suicide mission, but the duo continued with production in hopes that the film would raise awareness about overhunting. “Roar” is a must-see simply for its novelty. The footage is all real, evidenced by the trailer’s claim that the cast and crew endured at least 70 documented attacks from the animals on set — none of which were fatal.

National Release Date: April 17 - 23

Where: Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar

The Age of Adaline

Another twist on the fountain-of-youth plot, “Age of Adaline” showcases Blake Lively as a woman eternally stuck as a 29-year-old struggling to find her place in an ever-changing world. The epic romantic drama will be rife with melodramatic dialogue and “deep” realizations about the meaning of life, but the movie is sure to be of higher quality than the Nicholas Sparks alternative, “The Longest Ride,” which is also showing this month. Given the choice between the two, go with "Adaline." 

National Release Date: April 24

Where: TBD

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2

If you can make it through the entirety of this trailer, I commend you. Paul Blart is back for a sequel that is strikingly similar to the original, a 90-minute “comedy” about the antics of a run-of-the-mill mall cop. In the sequel, Paul Blart, played by Kevin James, finds himself involved in a Las Vegas heist while attending a Security Guard Expo. “Mall Cop 2” promises the return of the segway and the wornout run-into-glass-door slapstick stunts.

National Release Date: April 17

Where: AMC Barton Creek Square 14

(Photo courtesy of Universal Studios)

Oliver Stone is a prolific director, but our generation hasn’t been privy to his best work. His unique bits of Americana mostly hit theaters in the ‘80s, with the director doing his best work on films like “Born on the Fourth of July” and “Platoon.” Some of his more recent work, namely “Natural Born Killers,” also shines, but Stone has been in an undeniable decline. Thankfully, “Savages” turns all that around, a stunning return to form for the director and an aptly titled, unapologetically violent piece of distinctly adult entertainment.

Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson star as California marijuana growers/sellers Chon and Ben. Chon did tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the seeds he brought back allowed Ben to build his empire, while Chon acts mostly as security when things go south. However, in addition to sharing a business, they share Ophelia, played with lithe confidence by Blake Lively. When the Mexican cartels, led by Elena (Salma Hayek) and her muscle man Lado (Benicio Del Toro), try to get into business with an uninterested Ben and Chon, they kidnap Ophelia in an attempt to sway them.

“Savages” is defined by its impressive ensemble, and each cast member gets a chance to impress during its runtime. Kitsch’s career has been unimpressive thus far, but here he’s full of intensity and danger. Chon’s friendship with Ben is truly the center of the film, and Kitsch and Johnson turn in a really wonderful duet here, their bond coming from somewhere real and honest. Lively has been something of a divisive performer so far, failing to impress in her big screen roles, but she gives a truly interesting performance here. Stone refuses to let her character be an afterthought, a prize that Ben and Chon are fighting to win back, and Lively brings some true soul to a character that is, by design, fairly empty, letting us root for and even start to like her.

However, the old pros in the picture end up stealing the show. John Travolta, playing a sketchy DEA agent who’s on many payrolls, plays his character as very, very large and expressive, a bold decision that pays off throughout the film. Del Toro is appropriately menacing, his bushy eyebrows and mustache doing wonders for his performance. Hayek’s cartel leader is threatening but also strangely maternal, making her fascinating to watch as she navigates her dueling natures. The ease with which she slips into a new identity ultimately defines her impressive performance.

Unfortunately, “Savages” isn’t especially subtle. Stone wields its themes like a sledgehammer and throws its title around like a beach ball at a Nickelback concert. The film frontloads itself with literary references before devolving into pulpy brutality. Its most interesting thematic tangent is probably the exploration of mother-daughter relationships, especially between Hayek and Lively’s characters. Nonetheless, Stone is doing stylish, confident work, always trying something new and appropriate, and fills even small moments with unbearable tension.

The only other legitimate complaint with “Savages” comes from a deadline that Elena sets, the period in which Ben and Chon have to win Ophelia back. It’s a high-stakes finish line for the film to hit, but there’s never any sense of a ticking clock or time passing, just a series of events happening sequentially. Even so, the film moves with an undeniable sense of momentum, and is never anything less than a blast. There’s nothing quite like “Savages” in theaters right now: It’s brash, bold and bloody. Stone’s impressive return to form is one of the most distinctive, entertaining films of the summer.

Editors Note: This is the second in a three-part series profiling designers participating in this year’s Austin Fashion Week, which began Saturday and runs through Aug. 21.

It would be a big mistake to write 20 year-old Sabra Johnson off as a fashion designer and model who looks like a sweet and innocent Taylor Swift or Blake Lively. Her designs are a mash-up of flowing, free-spirited gowns and darker elements straight out of a Marilyn Manson concert. While the two don’t seem related, for Johnson it’s about playing with creativity in multiple forms.

Growing up in Huntsville, Texas, Johnson got into beauty pageants ten years ago and was quickly picked up by Disney Channel and MTV, then moved to print modeling and is now designing her own clothes. Johnson will showcase her line of gowns on Friday night at Aces Lounge.

Daily Texan: Have you had any training?

Sabra Johnson: My mom and my grandmother both did gowns. My main focus is gowns but I have picked up jewelry work. My style is more hippie-vintage, so I’ve been making metal headdresses or little “head thongs” as I like to call them. I also imported some blue and pink fox fur for hats that will be worn with my gowns on Friday.

DT: How did you get to being on television?

SJ: I started doing child beauty pageants when I was 10. One day we went to this rinky-dink mall and there was a pageant going on. I guess it was the thing to do there, and I really fell in love with it. So then I did Oprah, Dr. Phil and “Good Morning America,” because I did a lot of child beauty pageants. Then A&E did a biography on my life. Disney signed me after that, then I switched to MTV when I was 16. But after that, MTV was following me to my high school and classes and I thought it was too much. I was getting to the point where I was about to start college. So I decided to do something less stressful and went into print. After that I modeled for the fashion industry and then decided to design for the fashion industry two years ago.

DT: When did you first start designing?

SJ: Last year I played with it but this year I really want to put myself out there. Last year I threw a fashion show for my birthday with mohawks and sequined bras and thongs. It was very scandalous, but I loved it.

DT: Who are your influences?

SJ: The darker side definitely appeals to me. I’m a total metalhead. I listen to Necrophages, Dying Fetus, Cannibal Corpse, you name it; it doesn’t even look like me, but I love it all. When people see my collection it’s kind of like I just threw up everything on the collection. It’s a mix of all these gorgeous hippie gowns while the girls walk to these Marilyn Manson songs. Then I told my make-up artist I wanted them to look like they were heroine-chic, like they’re coming off of doing heroine for four days straight and they’re starting to sweat.

DT:How do you see all these disparate things connected?

SJ: My head is a jumbled mess of everything. So when I put things together, it fits for me. I’m the kind of person who will wear anything out in public. If it’s wild and out there then I love it. That’s why my collections are wild with the giant hats and gowns.

DT: What’s next for you?

SJ: I have a collection all planned out in my head that’s just black. It’s definitely not the softer side of me. This is still my learning year, but next year I plan on come out with balls blaring. I still don’t know everything, and I’m kind of still finding my freak factor.

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WHAT: Sabra Johnson
WHERE: Aces Lounge
WHEN: Friday at 9 p.m.
WHO: 18 & up
HOW MUCH: $10