Indie Focus: Joining in (or not) with ‘The Tribe,’ ‘Ted 2’ & the Academy



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

We here at Indie Focus HQ are just bubbling over with excitement at the run of screening events that will be coming up in July and August. Times subscribers are given priority access to RSVPs and seating. (If you do the math, with free movies and other LAT events, a subscription is a pretty good deal. Plus, the news!) Announcements for upcoming screenings will be coming soon, so keep checking here:

Nonstop movies. Movies nonstop.

‘The Tribe’

Sergey (Grigoriy Fesenko) and Shnyr (Alexandr Sidelnikov) threaten a schoolmate in “The Tribe.” (Drafthouse Films)

It’s unusual to genuinely be able to say a movie is like no other, but the Ukrainian film “The Tribe” is truly singular. Part juvenile delinquent movie, part rough-and-tumble coming-of-age romance, part societal allegory, the film is set within a boarding school for deaf children that has its own criminal hierarchy. Though not technically a silent film, there is no spoken dialogue, as all communication is done through unsubtitled sign language, giving the movie a raw physicality and hypnotic pull.

“It's not a film about deaf people, and it's not a film especially for deaf people. It's a film for all of us,” writer-director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy said in a recent interview.

Many want to read the film as some sort of allegory for recent political unrest in Ukraine, but as lead actress Yona Novikova said, “I find it less of a political story and more of a human story. For me, it is more personal, as it relates to hearing people understanding deaf people as people, both good and bad… It makes us part of the greater human story.”

The film opened over the weekend to sold-out shows at the CinefamilyIn his L.A. Times review, Robert Abele called the film “a vortex of filmmaking style and humanity's darker impulses… denying its power is tough.”

‘Ted 2’ inspires critics

John (Mark Wahlberg) and Ted (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) keep their friendship going through life changes in “Ted 2.” (Universal Pictures)

I have not yet had a chance to see “Ted 2.” (There’s a lot of movies out there!) And though it may look like a movie intended as “critic proof,” Seth McFarlane’s foul-mouthed toy bear has inspired some of the most engaged, committed and on-fire film writing of the summer.

Grantland’s Wesley Morris powerfully connected the film to recent real-world events and explained how the film’s extended series of jokes on race and personhood land differently for some audiences than others. “You never expect a movie to hurt you. Disappoint? Dismay? Depress? Fine. But when a movie has a field day asserting the humanity of a fake toy bear at the expense of your own, it hurts.”

In the New York Times, Manohla Dargis took on both the film and those who might tell its critics to lighten up: “And this isn’t a question of political correctness, the default complaint of those who just want their critics to shut up. If anything, American comedies need to take on race more, to test boundaries and audiences alike. First, though, they have to grasp the differences between appropriation and engagement, and between comedy that supports the racist status quo and comedy that shreds it to pieces.”

Even positive reviews still had to recognize and grapple with the difficulties of a movie like “Ted 2.” The Times’ Rebecca Keegan dove into a joke involving gay rights by saying, “It's a conundrum of MacFarlane's career that he depends on viewers to grasp the nuance of that moment at the same time that they should be the kind of people who genuinely enjoy a good Kardashian joke. How much does the Venn diagram of those two groups overlap? I don't know. I just know I'm in it.”

That sentiment was echoed by the Village Voice’s Stephanie Zacharek: “Some movies are indefensible, and ‘Ted 2’ is one of them… But I laughed and laughed at ‘Ted 2’ — as I did at the 2012 ‘Ted’ — and I can hardly tell you what that says about me, let alone about you.”

Change and the Academy

Daniel Radcliffe, left, Elizabeth Banks and Justin Lin are among the 322 people invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. (Los Angeles Times)

Josh Rottenberg had a story this week about veteran stuntman Jack Gill's campaign for the Oscars to recognize stuntwork. This year has certainly featured some breathtaking screen stunts, from the cars dropped from a cargo plane in “Furious 7” to all of “Mad Max: Fury Road.” The upcoming “Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nations” is being sold in no small part on a stunt in which Tom Cruise hangs off the side of a plane. The article gets into some of the practical realpolitik reasons why it has been difficult to get traction for a stunt Oscar within the halls of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.

Speaking of the academy, it released its annual list of invited new members this week, a walloping 322. The list pointed toward the academy’s continuing campaign to diversify itself to better reflect contemporary working Hollywood and audiences alike. Among those invited were performers Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Tom Hardy, Rosamund Pike and Choi Min-sik, directors Bong Joon-ho, Kelly Reichardt, Francois Ozon, Abderrahmane Sissako, Justin Lin, Edgar Wright, Lynn Shelton and Andrey Zvyagintsev. And the music branch invited in “Tootsie” composer Dave Grusin!

‘Once Upon a Time in the West’

In what will probably wind up as one of the true film nerd highlights of the summer, the New Beverly Cinema  is giving a week-long run to a brand-new 35 mm print of Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in the West” from June 28-July 4. With a self-awareness that makes it still seem fresh today, the film is somehow both stately and nimble. The opening sequence in which a group of men assembles at a train station is a master class in the use of screen space, cutting and close-ups to build atmosphere and an unbearable tension.

The cast alone is incredible, with Henry Fonda, Claudia Cardinale, Jason Robards, Charles Bronson and Woody Strode. Add to that one of Ennio Morricone’s most eccentric scores, mixing electric guitar, harmonica and orchestra with use of ambient sounds as punctuation.

To call “West” Leone’s best film would be to somehow deny the greatness of “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” or “Once Upon a Time in America.” As 35 mm projection becomes increasingly specialized, the chance to see a brand-new print of a dusty jewel like “Once Upon a Time in the West” is an event that will only become all the more rare.

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