Indie Focus: Opening up to Summer Sneaks, 'Free Fire' and 'A Quiet Passion'

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

The L.A. Times’ Summer Movie Sneaks published Sunday, and it is reliably full of information on movies big and small coming out over the next few months.

Josh Rottenberg wrote about Fionn Whitehead, star of Christopher Nolan’s much-anticipated World War II story “Dunkirk,” as well as Steve Zahn for “War for the Planet of the Apes.” Glenn Whipp spoke to Kumail Nanjiani about “The Big Sick” and Kurt Russell about “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”

Tre’vell Anderson wrote about actor Demetrius Shipp Jr., who will be playing Tupac Shakur in “All Eyez On Me.” Sonaiya Kelley spoke to Jude Law about his appearance in “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.”

Meredith Woerner examined what’s new with Spider-Man’s suit in the new “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and how the mythical island of Themyscira will be depicted in “Wonder Woman.” And Steve Zeitchik spoke to Taylor Sheridan about his directing debut “Wind River.”

I took a look at summer at the arthouse and movies aimed at both older and younger audiences. From “Paris Can Wait,” the fiction feature debut of 80-something writer-director Eleanor Coppola to the Instagram stalking story of “Ingrid Goes West,” these films have something for many different audiences.

And I interviewed Sofia Coppola (Eleanor’s daughter) about her new film “The Beguiled,” a Civil War-era tale steeped in Southern Gothic imagery in which Colin Farrell plays a Union soldier who finds shelter with the inhabitants of a Southern all-girls school inhabited by the likes of Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning.

The LAT Events team had its hands full with the recent Festival of Books, but we will get back to work on our screenings and Q&As soon enough. Keep on the lookout for future events at events.latimes.com.

‘Free Fire’

Having emerged quickly over the last few years and continuing to work at a brisk pace, Ben Wheatley is among the most exciting filmmakers in the world. Along with his collaborator (and wife) Amy Jump, Wheatley turns genre expectations inside out and upside down, making movies that are full of a movie-fan’s delight even as they maintain a power to disturb and unnerve. His latest is “Free Fire,” about a late-’70s gun deal that goes wrong and leads to an extended shootout. The movie stars Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley, Cillian Murphy and others. It’s bloody and good and fun.

For The Times, I reviewed the film, calling it “ferocious, funny and relentless,” while noting that for fans of Wheatley’s films, “it is a rollicking good time and, more important, an inadvertent skeleton key to thinking about and understanding the rest of his films.”

For The Times, Chris Lee met with actor Sharlto Copley, who turns in an outrageous performance in “Free Fire” as the movie’s ostensible villain. Copley acknowledged his performance was purposefully pitched to the extreme, as he said, “It’s not for everyone. When you take a strong position as an actor, it’s risky. It is what you might call scene-stealing or chewing the scenery. But that’s my instinct: to do the thing I’d like to watch on-screen.”

Reviewing the film for the New York Times, Glenn Kenny called it, “a formal exercise in spectacle under restraint,” while adding of Wheatley that the film “shows that he’s a technically virtuosic director whose humor has a bracingly nasty side. He’s also no dummy. ‘Free Fire’ is an action movie finely tuned to even the most potentially vicious audiences’ tolerances.”

For the Ringer, Adam Nayman conducted an interview with actor Michael Smiley, who has a longstanding relationship with Wheatley. Also at the Ringer, Sean Fennessey interviewed Wheatley.

Nayman has written a book on the filmmaker, “Ben Wheatley: Confusion and Carnage,” and was interviewed by Matt Zoller Seitz. As Nayman puts it, “I'd say this is one of Wheatley's greatest strengths as a filmmaker — he's always pushing, to the point of nearly imploding the movies from the inside-out. It doesn't surprise me that some people find it annoying; I find it exhilarating.”

‘A Quiet Passion’

Terence Davies is a prolific British filmmaker, a regular of the festival circuit who inspires passion in some moviegoers and a dutiful half-interest in others. It seems that his “A Quiet Passion,” about 19th century author Emily Dickinson, played by Cynthia Nixon, is worth checking in with for anyone. Jennifer Ehle plays Dickinson’s sister Vinnie in the story of women struggling to find their place in a world that leaves them few options.

For The Times, Justin Chang noted: “If that sounds forbiddingly austere, rest assured that Davies also wants to make you laugh. The first half of ‘A Quiet Passion,’ in particular, is a riotous assemblage of drawing-room banter to rival Whit Stillman’s recent adaptation of the Jane Austen comedy ‘Love & Friendship,’ though the line readings here are more deliberate than effervescent, and even throwaway witticisms prove intimately revealing of character, milieu and circumstance.”

Reviewing the film for the New York Times, A.O. Scott added, “Though ‘A Quiet Passion’ is small — modest in scope, inward rather than expansive, precise in word and gesture — it contains multitudes. It opens a window into an era whose political and moral legacies are still with us, and illuminates, with a practiced portraitist’s sureness of touch, the mind of someone who lived completely in her time, knowing all the while that she would eventually escape it.”

For the New Yorker, Richard Brody called the film “an absolute drop-dead masterwork,” going on to say it “is one of the rare movies about a writer that conveys the sense that the character, as depicted, is capable of artistic creation at a world-historical height of achievement.”

Also at the New Yorker, Rachel Syme spoke to Nixon about taking on a literary giant. “Terence didn’t want her to be solemn or meek about it, though,” she said. “He thought she was savagely funny. She saw the world around her and herself with a really unforgiving eye. And when you see the gaps between what’s supposed to be and what is, you can be depressed, or you can see the humor in it.”

‘Karl Marx City’

For their latest work, documentary filmmakers Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker — best known for their Iraq-set film “Gunner Palace” — return to Chemnitz, Germany, where Epperlein was born when it was part of East Germany and known as Karl Marx Stadt, or “Karl Marx City.” They attempt to piece together parts of her family history while also examining the culture of fear that was part of that repressive regime. The film plays out as something personal but also partly like a surveillance thriller, with the filmmakers gathering clues from declassified evidence.

Reviewing the film for The Times, Justin Chang said the film “ingeniously subverts the weaponry of Cold War-era surveillance, employing the tools of the Stasi’s intelligence-gathering operation toward a far more principled end. … Epperlein and Tucker sift through these illicit materials — and forge their own fresh images and interviews — with an eye toward illuminating the truth and possibly even vindicating the innocent.”

For the New York Times, A.O. Scott added that the film is “a smart, highly personal addition to the growing syllabus of distressingly relevant cautionary political tales. The volumes currently crowding bookstore front tables — George Orwell’s ‘1984,’ Sinclair Lewis’s ‘It Can’t Happen Here,’ Hannah Arendt’s ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’ — offer time-tested prophecies and autopsies of dictatorship. ‘Karl Marx City’ supplements their theories and speculations with everyday facts about life in the supposed workers’ paradise of the German Democratic Republic.”

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

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