Indie Focus: Savvy summer fun with 'Okja,' 'Baby Driver' and 'The Little Hours'

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

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its newest group of invitees for membership this week, the largest-ever class with 774 industry professionals from around the world invited to join. The invite list included people such as Kristen Stewart, Dwayne Johnson and Gal Gadot along with Jordan Peele, Barry Jenkins, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jon Hamm, Priyanka Chopra, Nick Cave, Mike Mills, Brit Marling and so many more exciting names (even Viggo Mortensen, who said he would at last accept the invitation after declining a previous offer to join.).

“This isn’t about numbers,” academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs said to The Times’ Josh Rottenberg. “This is about what is right. This is about recognizing who we all are and what we have to contribute to this art form.”

Both Times film critic Justin Chang and reporter Tre’vell Anderson wrote about just what this outsized class means to the academy moving forward, with Justin saying, “Maybe the academy, far from seeing its standards decline, is figuring out what it means to have standards in the first place: namely, by fostering a membership that can genuinely be described as world class.”

We have two very exciting screenings coming up in July, which will be announced very soon. For updates on future events, go to events.latimes.com.

‘Okja’

Though most people around the country (and the world) will be seeing the movie exclusively on Netflix, people in Los Angeles have the added bonus of seeing Bong Joon Ho’s “Okja” in in a theater. (Even projected on 35 mm!) The story of a teenage girl, Mija (An Seo Hyun), struggling to protect the “superpig” named Okja she has been raising, the film is a marvel.

I reviewed the movie for The Times, noting what a remarkable creation Okja the creature is and adding “the unassumingly revolutionary movie that bears her name is sensitively attuned to its moment, pushing the boundaries of contemporary storytelling and image-making with an adventuresome derring-do, subversive sensibility and a playful, peaceful core.”

At the New York Times, A.O. Scott called Bong “one of the great visual storytellers working in movies today,” adding that, “The human performers are all brilliant, but the movie belongs to its title character and her digitally conjured, genetically modified ilk. Okja is a miracle of imagination and technique, and “Okja” insists, with abundant mischief and absolute sincerity, that she possesses a soul.”

At Buzzfeed, Alison Willmore added, “A caustic horror comedy of sorts about the global economy, Okja doesn’t end on a perfectly rosy note. But as an act of global cinema itself, it’s more hopeful — an example of how border-crossing moviemaking can mean so much more than the personality-free, created-by-committee feel of so many recent would-be blockbusters.”

At Vulture, Emily Yoshida wrote how with his earlier “Snowpiercer” and now “Okja,” Bong has “christened a subgenre of film I like to think of as the alternate-reality blockbuster: a kind of big, over-the-top adventure that seemed transmitted from a Hollywood system that hadn’t been completely colonized by franchises… like a particularly optimistic vision of a cinema of the future.”

‘Baby Driver’

Writer-director Edgar Wright puts the pedal to the metal with “Baby Driver,” an exhilarating car-chase action heist movie with loads of music on the soundtrack and romance in its heart. Starring Ansel Elgort as a young getaway driver hoping to escape his life of crime, the film is filled with excitement and fun.

At The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “‘Baby Driver’ is a lavishly souped-up gimmick movie, and I don’t mean that as a knock. The gimmick here is so good that I actually wanted more of it: more killer tracks, more death-defying car-eography, more chase scenes shot to look like renegade Uber commercials… You wonder until the end whether Baby will figure out what to do with his extraordinary gift, even as you know from the first frame that Wright already has.”

At the New York Times, Manohla Dargis added “There’s much to enjoy in “Baby Driver,” including the satisfactions of genuine cinematic craft and technique, qualities that moviegoers can no longer take for granted. The edits snap, the colors pop and the cinematography serves the performances and the story rather than embalming them in an emptily showy, self-regarding directorial conceit. The emotions are mostly rote and cold, but the car chases are hot — at once fluid, geometric and rhythmic, with a beat Baby carries with him out of the car whether he’s on the stroll or the run.”

At the AP, Lindsay Bahr said Wright has crafted “a slick, stylish and wholly original action epic with ‘Baby Driver,’ which is both as good as anything you’re bound to see in theaters this summer and a bit of a drop-off from the incredibly high bar that Wright has proven himself capable of hitting… Perhaps that’s the bigger point of ‘Baby Driver.’ In this underground world, no one is ‘real’ — they’re all slick coats of paint and simulated cool, right down to the carefully calculated soundtrack. But what more do you want from an action pic?

‘The Little Hours’

Written and directed by Jeff Baena and starring Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie, Molly Shannon, Kate Micucci, Dave Franco, John C. Reilly and an awful lot more awfully funny performers, “The Little Hours” should be a one-joke riff with modern speech (and much cursing) in a period story. Based on tales from Giovanni Boccaccio’s medieval book “The Decameron,” the film turns out to be much more, an odd, funny, unexpectedly vibrant portrait of people just trying to make things work out.

Reviewing the film for The Times, Katie Walsh didn’t care for it as much as I do, declaring that in comparison to a down-and-dirty “nunsploitation” picture from the 1970s “the movie is not quite anything at all – not quite a comedy, not quite an exploitation flick… you’re just left wondering what it is, and what the point of it all might be.”

I spoke to Baena about the movie ahead of its premiere earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. Regarding the mixture of period source material and a setting against the very modern manner of the performers, he explained, “I felt like the trick in this movie was to make everything completely period, historically accurate, and then just make the human beings feel like they’re contemporary… So my thinking was let’s cut out that buffer between us and history and just have them talk naturally.”

At Time, Stephanie Zacharek said, “Every few months in the world of movies, there's a small delight that nearly slips past notice… ‘The Little Hours’ coasts along breezily on the oddball rhythms of its actors.”

At RogerEbert.com, Sheila O’Malley called the movie “a riotous medieval-era sex romp played with lunatic conviction,” while adding, “What could have been — in less confident hands — a one-joke sketch becomes, instead, a consistently wacko screwball.”

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

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