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Indie Focus: the Los Angeles Film Festival, 'Chevalier' and 'Popstar' keep the summer moving

Hello! I'm Mark Olsen, and welcome to your weekly field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

I just returned from a much-needed holiday and am fired up to get back into the swing of things at Indie Focus HQ. Even though it's not yet officially summer, it already sure feels like it, both outside and at movie theaters.

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I am excited that two of my recent favorite movies, "The Lobster" and "Love and Friendship," are both sticking around in theaters and even becoming minor hits. If you haven't seen them yet, try to find the time.

And we'll have some more exciting screening/Q&A events coming up soon. Check events.latimes.com for more info.

Nonstop movies. Movies nonstop.

A still from "No Light and No Land Anywhere"
A still from "No Light and No Land Anywhere" (L.A. Film Festival)

Los Angeles Film Festival

One of the sure signs of the arrival of L.A.'s movie summer is the start of the L.A. Film Festival. The programming team behind it has turned away from revisiting much of what's already been floating around the year's festival circuit in favor of genuinely new titles, with an emphasis on world premieres. The festival runs through the 9th, so there's still time to catch plenty of what's on offer.

This has led to the festival being a genuine champion of diversity, with a relatively high percentage of films directed by women and people of color and a relatively low percentage of films with movie stars.

"My theory is that people are hungry for authentic stories," festival director Stephanie Allain recently said to fellow Times reporter Amy Kaufman, "and don't give a [hoot] if there's a movie star in a film."

Our critic Justin Chang made his way through some of the titles and came up with a list of recommendations, noting that conversations about the festival's diversity and lineup "may be a roundabout way of approaching the question by which every festival ultimately lives or dies: How are the movies?"

Another fellow Times writer, Tre'vell Anderson, attended the festival's filmmaker retreat, which is usually off-limits to reporters. And I attended the festival's opening night world premiere of "Lowriders."

Panos Koronis in "Chevalier."
Panos Koronis in "Chevalier." (Strand Releasing)

'Chevalier'

Greek filmmaker Athina Rachel Tsangari makes movies that play out as part sociological study, part abstracted allegory and her latest, "Chevalier," finds her examining with close detail the ways of men among men. A group goes on a holiday boat trip together that also includes the kinds of low-key competitions that are often how men relate to one another, only here it escalates quickly.

In The Times, Justin Chang called the film "poker-faced comedy of male misbehavior" that "pries open a window onto something rich, strange and undeniably authentic about male egos in conflict."

Writing for RogerEbert.com, critic Glenn Kenny notes, "By keeping things compact, the movie honors its premise modestly but with exemplary articulation. 'Chevalier' is an intelligent and dry entertainment that might also make a very telling date movie."

As Amy Nicholson notes at MTV News, "slowly we realize that the true measure of a man isn't whether he wins — it's how he loses."

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Tsangari gave a very sharp interview with Alix Lambert for Filmmaker magazine, in which she said, "It started as an idea of: how do we negotiate power? You can make a horror movie, you can make an action movie, you can make a bromance. You can make a romantic comedy, and all of these films to a certain extent are films about power ... it's a movie that was more about exposing the mechanics — the gears are set into motion when you actually start measuring yourself up against yourself and against the others."

Andy Samberg in "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping."
Andy Samberg in "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping." (Universal Pictures)

'Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping'

Sometime you have to look at the world and just laugh. And among the most adept satirists of contemporary popular culture is the team of Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, who were involved in a string of SNL Digital shorts and the now cult-appreciated "Hot Rod."

Their latest, "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping," is a spit-take on the world of contemporary pop music and celebrity, in which Samberg stars as a duly dull singer reuniting with his former bandmates.

In the New York Times, A.O. Scott noted, "'Popstar' takes aim at everything that is artificial and plastic in contemporary pop in a spirit of love rather than spite. It's a celebration of the curious authenticity — the innocence, the sweetness, the guiltless pleasure — of music whose badness is sometimes hard to separate from its genius."

At the Chicago Tribune, Michael Phillips added, "Now pushing 40, Samberg and associates had only so much time left in their careers to rip on a Justin Bieber-like superstar and not look like idiots. Let's call 'Popstar' a just-in-timer."

At Time, Stephaine Zacharek added, "The appeal of Andy Samberg is that he never appears to be trying too hard. His comedy is the off-the-cuff, vaguely nerdy kind, a grownup — but not too grownup — version of improvisational horsing around in the parental basement."

L.A. Times reporter Josh Rottenberg spoke to the team behind the film. Schaffer told him, "It's basically a version of us if we had no self-awareness and had made bad decisions ... It was very easy for us to see a different route things could have taken in life, so this is kind of playing with that."

Samantha Robinson in 'The Love Witch."
Samantha Robinson in 'The Love Witch." (Anna Biller Productions)

'The Love Witch' & 'All of Them Witches'

Saturday the 11th will see the L.A. premiere of Anna Biller's "The Love Witch" as part of the Etheria Film Night series at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. Biller makes films like no one else, impeccably crafted movies that exist in a world sprung from exploitation pictures, vintage men's magazines and a sexualized, stylized imagination.

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Richard Brody at the New Yorker recently lauded "The Love Witch" by saying, "Biller ingeniously tweaks Hollywood tropes, conventions, and clichés of a half century ago ... 'The Love Witch' is a parody, but a parody of discovery, in which Biller puts genre to the test of do-it-yourself artistry, and puts feminist ideology itself to the test of style."

"The Love Witch" was also recently picked up for distribution by Oscilloscope Pictures and will be coming out sometime later in the year.

Separately the Cinefamily is putting on a whole series of movies involving witchcraft under the title "All of Them Witches." It features both a lot of greatest hits and also some obscurities and discoveries, including the 1967 Russian film "Viy." That's already played, alas, but still to come are Nicolas Roeg's "The Witches," Ken Russell's "The Devils," Roman Polanski's "Rosemary's Baby" and Richard Quine's "Bell, Book and Candle." Then there are midnight shows of Andrew Fleming's "The Craft" and Dario Argento's "Suspiria."

As if that weren't enough witchery, on Tuesday the 7th there will be a screening of Benjamin Christensen's 1922 film "Haxan," with a live score by the group White Magic.

Email me if you have questions, comments or suggestions, and follow me on Twitter @IndieFocus.

Follow on Twitter: @IndieFocus

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