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Indie Focus: Around the world with Cannes, 'Alien: Covenant' and 'Everything, Everything'

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

The annual international movie bacchanal of the Cannes Film Festival is well underway, and The Times' Kenneth Turan, Justin Chang and Steven Zeitchik are all on the ground in France. Kenny had an overview of the year's selections, while Steve asked the question of whether it all matters. Steve also addressed the year's looming controversy over the inclusion of two films from Netflix and what that means for cinema culture and the future of moviegoing.

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Justin is filing daily reports, including this one on Bong Joon-ho's much anticipated "Okja" and another on Todd Haynes' "Wonderstruck," which finds the filmmaker back at the festival with the follow-up to his beloved "Carol."

We have some fun summertime screenings and Q&As landing on the schedule, which we will be able to announce soon. Keep on the lookout for future events at events.latimes.com.

Ridley Scott directs Katherine Waterston (Daniels) in the film "Alien: Covenant."
Ridley Scott directs Katherine Waterston (Daniels) in the film "Alien: Covenant." (Mark Rogers / Twentieth Century Fox)

'Alien: Covenant'

Ridley Scott returns again to the franchise that helped stake his reputation as a filmmaker with the new "Alien: Covenant." Fitting within the story timeline between 2012's "Prometheus" and the original 1979 "Alien," the new film finds a group of would-be colonists landing on a deserted planet and finding it is perhaps not so deserted. The impressive cast includes Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender, Danny McBride, Amy Seimetz, Demian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo and Billy Crudup.

In his review for The Times, Justin Chang said, "Both the ideas and the splatter are held in much more confident balance this time around. … Unlike 'Prometheus,' which seemed almost reluctant to embrace its B-movie roots, 'Alien: Covenant' is a full-bore horror movie that proudly bears the franchise name, complete with old-school '70s title treatment. The bloodletting begins early and rarely lets up."

The Times' Josh Rottenberg spoke to McBride about his appearance in the movie, which is perhaps less unlikely than it might seem. Or, as Scott put it, "I'd seen Danny on TV and in other things, and he reminded me somehow of Slim Pickens, who most memorably played a B-29 bomber pilot in Stanley Kubrick's 'Dr. Strangelove.' I thought, 'Let's give this a little bit of a nod to Stanley.' "

Ann Hornaday at the Washington Post was less impressed. "In many ways, what's wrong with 'Alien: Covenant' can be traced to the success of the very first film, which reinvented the sci-fi form and invested it with new dimensions of terror and suspense. … The visionary design elements for which Scott was rightfully venerated in his earlier work are abandoned here in the interest of a gargantuan but by-the-numbers sense of scale."

At the Village Voice, Bilge Ebiri added " 'Alien: Covenant' seethes with self-importance yet is never boring or portentous. It can't come close to matching the greatness of the first two films in the series, but at least Scott seems to understand that these movies thrive on ambition. … Be grateful that Ridley Scott has lost none of his ability to provoke, captivate and infuriate.

And at Vulture, Emily Yoshida posits the film's chest-bursting as the best sex scene of the year, adding, "Very few films these days are trying to genuinely seduce their audience. … The chestbursters, though. Perhaps they are not the most romantic onscreen subjects, but they are among the most sensual." Yoshida concludes with the inevitable question, "Is it too late to get Ridley Scott on the next 'Fifty Shades' film?" (Please, someone, make that so.)

"Everything, Everything" director Stella Meghie is seen at the Bazar Restaurant in the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills.
"Everything, Everything" director Stella Meghie is seen at the Bazar Restaurant in the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

'Everything, Everything'

Directed by Stella Meghie, "Everything, Everything" is an adaptation of Nicola Yoon's young adult romantic novel about a young woman who lives in a sterile house because of an immune system disorder. The outside world nevertheless comes crashing in, thanks to a new boy next door. The film stars Amandla Stenberg and Nick Robinson as the young lovers, with Anika Noni Rose as Stenberg's mother.

Reviewing the film for The Times, Katie Walsh declared Stenberg "radiant" and praised the movie's "unexpected sense of buoyancy" while noting it was best when it examined the darker corners of the story, "exploring the psychology and consequences, rather than swooning over the shallow love story. But if a love story is what we're going to get, Stenberg and Robinson make a charming pair."

The Times' Tre'vell Anderson spoke to Meghie, a rare woman of color directing a studio movie. Moving forward, Meghie hopes to continue to find a balance between the demands of studio filmmaking and more personal, idiosyncratic storytelling.

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"Some stories don't fit in the studio system, and I'm going to want to tell some of those," she said. "And if there is something right in the studio system that I can bring something to, then that's where you'll find me."

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Reviewing the film for Uproxx, Abbey Bender compared the movie to a Taylor Swift video (in a good way), adding "Those looking for a funny or provocative teen film will likely be disappointed, but Everything, Everything possesses enough moments of charm to make the manipulation somewhat forgivable, even if it's hard not to wish for a film that explored the darker issues it raises around family and fate in more detail."

Alia Shawkat is Josie in the film "Paint It Black."
Alia Shawkat is Josie in the film "Paint It Black." (Imagination Worldwide / Imagination Worldwide)

'Paint It Black'

Adapted from the novel by Janet Fitch, "Paint It Black" is the debut as screenwriter and director from actress and poet Amber Tamblyn. With a ferocious lead performance by Alia Shawkat, the film is an expressive, emotional look at a young woman coming to terms with her boyfriend's suicide and the turbulent relationship with his mother (Janet McTeer).

Reviewing the film for The Times, Gary Goldstein noted, "The first-time director's feverish vision helps put a unique spin on a familiar story."

I was at the film's world premiere as part of last year's LA Film Festival, where Amy Poehler lead a Q&A with Tamblyn and Shawkat, and actress America Ferrera asked a question from the audience.

As to the kinds of films she hopes to make in the future, Tamblyn added, "I want to make the films that are the most difficult to get financed for the rest of my life. The films I want to make are films like this. I want to make films about [messed] up women who are awesome."

Reviewing the film for the New York Times, Neil Genzlinger added, "It's really all about the grieving and about how suicide's toll is measured in more than simply a life lost. It's not an easy movie to embrace, but it lingers."

Katie Walsh for the Playlist noted, "Tamblyn's at no loss of interesting things to say and show on screen, and 'Paint it Black' has some real gems among the jumble, especially Shawkat, who ably shoulders the task at hand, and gives a raw and sensitive performance of a woman dealing with the loss of a lover far too young."

Trine Dyrholm, Fares Fares, Ulrich Thomsen, Lars Ranthe, Magnus Millang, Helene Reingaard Neumann, Julie Agnete Vang, Martha Sofie Wallstrom Hansen, Anne Gry Henningsen and Sebastian Gronnegaard Milbrat star in "The Commune."
Trine Dyrholm, Fares Fares, Ulrich Thomsen, Lars Ranthe, Magnus Millang, Helene Reingaard Neumann, Julie Agnete Vang, Martha Sofie Wallstrom Hansen, Anne Gry Henningsen and Sebastian Gronnegaard Milbrat star in "The Commune." (Ola Kjelbye / Magnolia Pictures)

'The Commune'

Thomas Vinterberg has been a staple of the international arthouse circuit since his breakthrough with 1998's "The Celebration." He is the kind of filmmaker it has become easy to take for granted, as he has worked at such a high level for so long. Recent films "The Hunt" and his version of "Far From the Madding Crowd" are among his best work, so his new "The Commune" deserves a look. Collaborating again with screenwriter Tobias Lindholm, Vinterberg this time turns in a semi-autobiographical tale based on his own 1970s childhood growing up as part of a communal living situation with a cast that includes Trine Dyrholm and Ulrich Thomsen.

Reviewing the film for The Times, Robert Abele noted, "For all the ways 'The Commune' is built like your typical dissolution-of-a-marriage story, just with wide collars and flared pants, it's got some weird rhythms, as if sitcom-y humor, maudlin sentimentality and domestic drama were themselves testy cohabitants vying to be equal partners."

Jeannette Catsoulis at the New York Times compared the film to the recent "20th Century Women" while singling out Dyrholm's performance as "a woman of a certain age coping with uncertain times. It says much for Ms. Dyrholm's performance that we never doubt that she will prevail."

At RogerEbert.com, Sheila O'Malley said the film "doesn't really focus all that much on what happens when you put a bunch of charismatic individuals into one house. The ensemble is just background noise for the main story, a married couple in a midlife crisis. Pretty bourgeois, considering the 'free love' '70s atmosphere. Maybe that's the point."

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

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