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Indie Focus: Image and reality in 'I Feel Pretty,' 'Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami' and 'Godard Mon Amour'

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

Another week with more good movies than we can fit in the format of this newsletter. Times critic Justin Chang has been absolutely raving about "Western," the latest from German filmmaker Valeska Grisebach. As Chang said in his review, "Even as 'Western' channels the themes and mechanics of its eponymous genre, it resists every inclination to lead the viewer down a familiar path."

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The latest release from the distribution collective Array is the documentary “Jewel’s Catch One.” Directed by C. Fitz, the film tells the story of Jewel Thais-Williams and one of the first black-owned discos in the country that became a haven for the LGBTQ community of Los Angeles. The film is screening in L.A. on April 28 as part of a double bill with Cheryl Dunne’s landmark “The Watermelon Woman.”

This week we have a screening of "Tully" plus a Q&A with director Jason Reitman. For info and updates on future events, go to events.latimes.com.

From left, Aidy Bryant, Busy Philipps and Amy Schumer star in "I Feel Pretty."
From left, Aidy Bryant, Busy Philipps and Amy Schumer star in "I Feel Pretty." (Mark Schäfer / STX Films)

'I Feel Pretty'

The latest vehicle for Amy Schumer, "I Feel Pretty" is a romantic comedy about body image and self-love written and directed by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein that has become an unexpected flashpoint of controversy. In the film, Schumer plays a self-conscious woman who suddenly sees herself as beautiful, and behaves accordingly, after suffering a blow to the head.

Justin Chang reviewed the film for The Times, saying, " 'I Feel Pretty' is — how to put this? — better than it looks," before adding that it "will almost certainly be dismissed by those who assume it embodies, rather than examines, a sexist, reductive worldview."

The Times' Amy Kaufman got very personal with Schumer, in a frank and emotional conversation about body image. As Schumer said of how she gained self-confidence, "I just decided to believe my own hype. If you think of the things you would say to your friends when they're having a bad day — why don't you let yourself take care of yourself like that? I understand that that's really scary and makes you feel really vulnerable. But, like, Obama's 'The Audacity of Hope,' how about the audacity of loving yourself? Seriously, let yourself do it for 30 seconds. It's all in our heads."

Reviewing the film for the New York Times, Manohla Dargis declared, "It's clear that Ms. Schumer knows a thing or two about sexist ideologies, real power struggles and all the deeply unfunny, unpretty rest. She can go more than skin deep."

For Vulture, Emily Yoshida referred to the movie as "a byzantine hall of mirrors" while also noting it "is nothing if not well-intentioned, but veers into cheap and easy enough times to be misinterpreted. When it's good, though, and when Schumer's fully locked into her take-no-prisoners charm assault, it's pretty undeniably delightful stuff."

A scene from "Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami."
A scene from "Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami." (Kino Lorber)

'Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami'

The documentary "Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami," directed by Sophie Fiennes, is a portrait of the musician and actress Grace Jones, capturing her onstage and in personal, unguarded moments with her friends and family. The scenes of Jones in Jamaica show in ways few outside her nearest and dearest have ever seen her, seemingly at a remove from the icon of androgynous glamour she has become. Yet somehow, the movie finds a way to fuse the two.

In her review for The Times, Katie Walsh wrote, "The observational style and relaxed structure makes for a film that's a bit obtuse at times, but it lulls the viewer into a rhythm, from concert to backstage to Jamaica, cycling through Grace's worlds with the same ease that she does. Ultimately, 'Bloodlight and Bami' is a rich, delicate tapestry of a life, where each thread is lovingly woven together to create a full picture."

I interviewed Jones and Fiennes for an article that will be publishing soon that veers from oyster-shucking to hula-hooping. As Fiennes said of the complex portrait the film creates of Jones' life onstage and off, "The performance is the life. The performance doesn't exist without the life. It's not like here's the persona of Grace and then taking it away and here's the life of the person. It's all interconnected. For me, it's important to not fall into that illusion that here's a mask and behind it a real person. The performance is the real."

Wesley Morris reviewed the film for the New York Times, noting, "I imagine a downside of iconoclasm is that you never get to be a human being. This is someone whose long career as a model, actress and undervalued musician has veered, sometimes uncomfortably, into both the sub- and superhuman. So the relief of 'Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami' is that it seeks to square the person with the provocateuse."

Louis Garrel is Jean-Luc Godard and Stacy is Anne Wiazemsky in "Godard Mon Amour."
Louis Garrel is Jean-Luc Godard and Stacy is Anne Wiazemsky in "Godard Mon Amour." (Maya Anand / Cohen Media Group)

'Godard Mon Amour'

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"Godard Mon Amour," made by Oscar winner Michel Hazanavicius, sets the romantic turmoil of filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard and actress Anne Wiazemsky against the cultural upheavals of 1967 and 1968. The film is an ambitious blend of romantic drama, satirical comedy and artistic biography, rooted by the performances of Louis Garrel as Godard and Stacy Martin as Wiazemsky. (The film is based on a memoir by Wiazemsky, who died last year a few months after the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.)

Robert Abele reviewed the film for The Times, calling it "the kind of curiously inconsequential homage that neither stokes your interest in cinema/Godard nor illuminates a turbulent love story between artists."

I interviewed Hazanavicius recently here in Los Angeles. He spoke of how he was attracted to the combination of the personal and the political in the story's setting and specifics, saying, "Because it was during May '68, it was different layers of crisis. Jean-Luc Godard was almost 40, and I think he was in a kind of midlife crisis. This couple was in a crisis, his artistic life was in a crisis and Paris and France was in a huge crisis as well. So for a writer, it's very exciting, all these layers and levels of crisis."

You can also listen to the interview as part of the LAT podcast "The Reel."

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A.O. Scott reviewed the film for the New York Times, saying, "For hard-core Godardians, 'Godard Mon Amour' will be an indispensable hate-watch. For the Godard-ambivalent, the critical outrage of the partisans will provide its own kind of amusement. … 'Godard Mon Amour' works tirelessly to implicate its subject in its own shallowness."

The review most awaited by many was by the New Yorker's Richard Brody, who wrote a definitive biography of Godard. (And his review does not disappoint.) Brody says of Hazanavicius' conception of the couple at the movie's core: "He toys with their lives as if seeking to dominate them, to vampirize their experience, their talent, and even their status — all of which lies in stark contrast with the self-revealing, self-deprecating, confessional power of Godard's films as well as Wiazemsky's memoirs and performances."

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

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