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Indie Focus: Past becomes present in 'Dawson City: Frozen Time' and 'Maudie'

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

Are you feeling extra anxious lately? Do you have that vaguely untethered, end-of-the-world feeling? You are not alone. The Times’ Jeffrey Fleishman published an essay on depictions of doomsday dystopias in fiction and what they might have to say about our actual reality. From “Soylent Green” or “Waterworld” to “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Interstellar,” what does apocalyptic fiction mean in the face of, say, President Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord?

“Perhaps more than any other moment in his presidency, Trump’s action highlighted a Darwinian worldview in which the planet is less a community than an unforgiving marketplace for countries to compete and barter,” said Fleishman. “But exiting the climate pact has raised larger existential questions at a time of rising seas, droughts and melting ice caps.”

The screening event we had last week was one of the most exciting we’ve put on in some time, with Kumail Nanjiani, Emily V. Gordon, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter and Ray Romano talking about “The Big Sick.” We’ve got some more movies in the hopper for July, so for updates on future events, go to events.latimes.com.

‘Dawson City: Frozen Time’

Bill Morrison’s documentary “Dawson City: Frozen Time” explores the discovery in 1978 of a trove of rare nitrate films that includes footage of the 1917 and infamous 1919 World Series. Morrison’s film transforms that find into an exploration of history and memory and the bigger issues that that stash of rare film pointed toward.

Reviewing the movie, The Times’ Kenneth Turan said it is “[a]n aesthetic knockout that's crammed with wild tales, amazing facts and unconventional personalities, a documentary that's also a detective story, a history of a particular place that turns into an examination of an art form as well as a gloss on the political history of the 20th century.”

The Times’ Kevin Crust spoke to Morrison, who said, “I want you to have that sensation of having lived through the century, that you went through all the decades, that you worked up to that point. The minutiae is really the point of it. What gets saved, what gets lost, what gets forgotten, what gets remembered.”

In the New Yorker, Richard Brody noted: “In ‘Dawson City,’ Morrison offers a fiercely precise and discerning look at movies themselves as embodiments of history. In the process, he retunes our relationship with the ubiquitous cinematic archive — with the fresh batch of images that get delivered through the electronic pipeline by the minute — and with the very question of what’s contained, or what’s hidden, in the seemingly smooth and seamless flow of a movie.”

In the New York Times, Glenn Kenny added that the films rediscovered in the movie “suggest a vast unknown film history. They also remind any film scholar that no matter how seemingly voluminous your knowledge of movie history, it is likely to be only a fraction of a fraction of the entirety. In any event, ‘Dawson City’ now enters that time line as an instantaneously recognizable masterpiece.”

‘Maudie’

Directed by Aisling Walsh and written by Sherry White, “Maudie” is the fact-based story of folk artist Maud Lewis, who suffered from severe arthritis from an early age. Sally Hawkins gives a deeply committed performance as Lewis, while Ethan Hawke plays the man who marries her in this unsparing portrait of an artist’s life.

In his review for The Times, Robert Abele noted, “Sally Hawkins turns a crumpled misfit into an affecting figure of fortitude and optimism in ‘Maudie,’ a portrait of the artist as a hermit wife that overcomes some clunky early brushstrokes to achieve a genuine grace and considerable poignancy.”

Jeffrey Fleishman spent time with Ethan Hawke in New York. “For 20 years,” Hawke said, “I was a first-person actor. Then slowly I’ve been exploring having a whole other interest in different kinds of characters. It’s made acting so much more interesting.”

In the New York Times, Manohla Dargis wrote, “Mostly, it is a life that emerges through the contrapuntal performances of Ms. Hawkins and Mr. Hawke, who, with bobbing heads, mutter and murmur, bringing you into the private world of two outsiders isolated by geography, poverty, disability, temperament and habit. It’s easy, especially, to admire Ms. Hawkins’s technical skill — the private smiles and halting, crooked walk — but the beauty of her performance is that soon you see only Maud.”

‘Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe’

Author Stefan Zweig is best known to some audiences as the spiritual influence of Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Directed and co-written by Maria Schrader, the movie “Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe” explores the life of the author, who achieved extreme fame in his day.

In his review for The Times, Kenneth Turan called the film “intellectually involving and strikingly made,” adding that director Schrader came to the film “armed with clear ideas of what she wanted to convey and how she wanted to convey it” and that “she's made a movie that allows its actors to fully inhabit their characters in a potent but low-key way.”

In Variety, Guy Lodge wrote, “Schrader is as fascinated by the international response to Zweig as she is by Zweig himself: Much of the film is spent observing the pomp and ceremony, some of it absurd, that trails his travels.”

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

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