Indie Focus: Do cats give better film performances? And join us for 'Good Kill'



Hello! I'm Mark Olsen. And welcome, whether you are returning or here for the first time.

This is another exciting installment of our still new, work-in-progress newsletter on the world of movies, from the arthouse to beyond.

Besides a one-stop shop on what’s happening in theaters, your living room or on your laptop, this is also a headquarters for the Indie Focus Screening Series. At least once a month, the L.A. Times invites you to see a movie free followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers. I’m biased because I help put on the shows, but it’s fun and a real bargain. We’ve got a screening of the new Ethan Hawke-January Jones drama, "Good Kill," this Wednesday with writer-director Andrew Niccol in attendance. More info below. 

Nonstop movies. Movies nonstop.


A little over a year ago, I became co-owner/caretaker of a cat, my first pet. Ever since then I’ve noticed I’ve become more tuned-in to cats in movies as performers. In movies like "Gone Girl" or "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night," I’ve found myself engaged by cats as actors more than I have with the dogs in films such as "White God."

I am not — repeat, not — trying to start some kind of cats vs. dogs ground war here, but rather I'm trying to collect my thoughts on cats, dogs and animal acting. I can say I have never before written anything that has sparked so much interest among colleagues in the office, and I look forward to hearing from all of you. And, no, I did not write this essay just to get a picture of my cat published on the L.A. Times website. But, please, no one tell him, as it will go to his head.


Actor Gaspard Ulliel, left, and director Bertrand Bonello. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

I mentioned the new movie “Saint Laurent” last week and am mentioning it here again. Partly, I like it that much, but also I published a story this week on the collaboration between director and co-writer Bertrand Bonello and his star, Gaspard Ulliel, and also Bonello and award-winning costume designer Anaïs Romand. The movie is playing now in limited release and will be expanding in the coming weeks. Dress up and check it out.

I always really enjoy the Anatomy of a Scene video pieces put together by Mekado Murphy at the New York Times, in which a filmmaker essentially narrates a scene from his or her movie. The one Murphy did with Bonello for "Saint Laurent" covers one of my favorite scenes in the film, where a customer played by Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi is transformed by her clothing, as slight changes in the way she looks completely change the way she sees herself.


The UCLA Film & Television Archive puts on an annual series of new Iranian cinema. For a nation in cultural and political turmoil, where filmmakers can be jailed for their work, that so much new work is produced year in and year out feels like a statement all on its own.

“Filmmakers in Iran have a specific set of challenges that they have to face,” programmer Paul Malcolm said to me recently. “It’s always remarkable to me how many good films there are each year coming out of Iran given the larger context in which they have to work.”

This year’s program is already in motion. Among the films screening are Sepideh Farsi’s “Red Rose,” Rakhshan Banietemad’s “Tales,” Shahram Mokri’s “Fish & Cat” and Kamran Heidari’s ”My Name Is Negahdar Jamali and I Make Westerns”

Outside the series, Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi's 2009 film "After Elly" is finally getting a local theatrical run. Here's Kenneth Turan's review.

Visit the Archive’s website for more info.


I am the kind of nerd who likes listening to Blu-Ray and DVD commentary tracks. (And thanks to iTunes for now sometimes featuring them too.) A certain kind of filmmaker is particularly good at them — usually a mix of big picture and odd detail — and director Ava DuVernay is one of those people. The new “Selma” disc features two deeply engaging and informative commentary tracks, one of DuVernay with her star David Oyelowo and the other of the filmmaker with cinematographer Bradford Young and editor Spencer Averick.

"Selma" was among my favorite films last year, and I really appreciate how often the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is shown writing and rehearsing his speeches, giving a sense of the work and consideration that went into the way he presented himself. DuVernay repeatedly talks in the commentaries about how she wanted to get a sense of the man behind the icon, such as when she gets excited about a scene in which King is seen resting in his stocking feet: "He’s not a statue, he’s not a speech. He wears socks!"

When I ordered the disc, I threw in a copy of DuVernay’s previous film, “Middle of Nowhere,” which just recently came out on video. There’s a warm, revealing commentary track there too, this time with DuVernay and that film’s star, Emayatzy Corinealdi. And DuVernay’s AFFRM distribution collective is in the middle of a pledge drive.

David Oyelowo and Ava DuVernay. (Atsushi Nishijima / Paramount Pictures)


We’ve got another Indie Focus Screening Series event this week on Wednesday at the Sundance Sunset Cinemas in West Hollywood. We’ll be showing the movie “Good Kill” and will have writer-director Andrew Niccol there for a Q&A after. It’s free, open to the public and with special priority and benefits for L.A. Times subscribers. Seriously, it’s a good deal! You can RSVP here.

Niccol has long been making smart, unnerving movies, such as “Gattaca” and “Lord of War.” (He also wrote “The Truman Show.”) “Good Kill” is about a U.S. Air Force pilot (Ethan Hawke) who is no longer tasked with flying planes but rather pilots drones half a world away. The film examines the personal and professional toll this takes on him, as well as the ethics of drone warfare, making this a troubling, timely movie. There are also sharp supporting performances by January Jones, Bruce Greenwood and Zoe Kravitz. Come check it out for yourself.

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