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Indie Focus: Real struggles with 'Superfly,' 'En El Septimo Dia,' and 'The Year of Spectacular Men'

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

LALIFF, formerly the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, returns this year from June 20 to 24 in Hollywood, helping to fill the local summer schedule now that the L.A. Film Festival is moving to fall and Next Fest has gone on hiatus.

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The lively LALIFF program will include highlights such as the Sundance prize-winning doc “The Sentence,” the local premiere of dependably delightful Spanish filmmaker Álex de la Iglesia’s “Perfect Strangers” and, in collaboration with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the West Coast premiere of a new restoration of 1961’s “Santo Contra Cerebro Del Mal” that recently premiered at the Berlin Film Festival.

As Dilcia Barrera, senior programmer at LALIFF, said in an email, “LALIFF's return aligns with the demand for representation that has overtaken the entertainment industry in recent years. Our goal is to showcase, strengthen and celebrate the richness of the Latinx perspective. We have curated a fresh slate of storytellers that might not have had the opportunity to screen in Los Angeles otherwise.”

Anyone who knows me personally likely knows of my deep affection for and fascination with Elvis Presley. So as you may imagine, I am particularly excited for Monday’s screening of “The King,” a documentary on the cultural legacy of Elvis, along with a Q&A with filmmaker Eugene Jarecki. For info and updates, go to events.latimes.com.

Trevor Jackson in "Superfly."
Trevor Jackson in "Superfly." (Bob Mahoney / Sony Pictures Entertainment)

‘Superfly’

The new “Superfly,” a remake of the gritty and soulful 1972 crime drama, looks to bring a contemporary sensibility to a classic tale. Directed by Director X, born Julian Christian Lutz, the film stars Trevor Jackson as a young man making his way through the underworld of Atlanta.

Reviewing the movie for The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “‘Superfly’ may be suffused with political fury, but it is also unapologetically awash in cheap, disreputable B-movie thrills. That sounds like a fair approximation of the twin satisfactions — pleasure and provocation — that the early blaxploitation movies afforded their audiences in the immediate wake of the civil rights era, and there’s no real reason the formula shouldn’t hold up now: Even more than some movies, racial oppression has a way of never falling out of fashion.”

The Times’ Tre’vell Anderson wrote about the tradition of blaxploitation movies from which the new film and other upcoming projects draw, noting “in a new post-‘Black Panther’ world, audience response ahead of these projects’ release, particularly from black moviegoers, is a mixed bag of elation and concern. Considering what ultimately became of the blaxploitation era — how Hollywood trafficked in arguably unsavory depictions of black life for a number of years and then regressed in terms of black images and stories when the genre was no longer ‘bankable’ — it’s no surprise.”

Sonaiya Kelley spoke to Director X about the new film for The Times. “We respect the original story," the filmmaker said. "That's what the foundation of this is, the original movie. I can't express my hate for going to see a movie and they changed the ending or they 'fixed' it for us and it never needed to be fixed. We didn't 'fix' 'Super Fly,' we modernized 'Supe Fly' and that's the core of it."

One of the most enduring elements of the original film is its soundtrack album by Curtis Mayfield, putting special importance on the music for the new film. Kelley also spoke to rapper Future about his work on the movie for an article that will be publishing soon.

As Future said of his work on the movie, “Having Curtis Mayfield, someone I love and admire and look up to, to do a remake I was just like … he's too much of a legend to even come behind. I wanted to make sure it was completely different. To be inspired by what he's done but not try to duplicate something that could never be duplicated."

Reviewing the film for the New York Times, Glenn Kenny examined the modern update of the movie by noting, “The American Dream is invoked several times in ‘Superfly.’ The mentions come from the movie’s lead character, and from a song on the soundtrack. These days, it seems, the phrase is often used ironically. It’s all about the accumulation of wealth and a sybaritic lifestyle. There’s no spiritual dimension, no sense of genuine civic aspiration.”

Fernando Cardona in "En el Séptimo Día."
Fernando Cardona in "En el Séptimo Día." (Cinema Guild)

‘En El Séptimo Día’

Indie stalwart Jim McKay returns with his first feature film in 12 years with “En El Séptimo Día” (On the Seventh Day). The story of a Mexican delivery man in Brooklyn, the film is quietly observant of the real struggles and small joys of getting through the day, with a largely nonprofessional cast including a vibrant lead performance by Fernando Cardona.

For The Times, Kenneth Turan wrote, “As we hang on the film’s plot twists, we also quietly absorb its points about the power of community and the purposeful determination of immigrants to create better lives for their families, not as special pleading but as something powerful and convincing.”

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For The Times, Kelley spoke to McKay about his return to feature filmmaking after his recent work in television. He said, “I think that somehow all the little pieces fell into place in this movie. It's a small, independent realist film, and it's about a segment of the population that isn't often portrayed in films. But it's also not a bummer, it's not a torturous drama, it's a fun movie. I think it's also really refreshing for people to see these people who never acted before put in such strong performances in a film.”

For the Village Voice, Monica Castillo fit the film into the context of McKay’s work, writing, “These are the working-class stories not playing in prime time or on the big screen, with a group of people that much of America seems to have forgotten. Through his efforts, McKay captures a genuine sense of the bittersweet reality of the American dream and the people who give up their only weekly day of rest just to keep it alive.”

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At Artforum, Amy Taubin wrote, “It doesn’t seem like much of a plot, but watching José’s struggle turns out to be more than enough. Lots of actors can weep or laugh or become enraged on cue, but only the most gifted are able to express inner conflict. That Cardona accomplishes this in almost every scene is a sign of his talent and of McKay’s ability to inspire confidence in people who’ve never performed on camera.”

Madelyn Deutch, left, Zoey Deutch and Lea Thompson in "The Year of Spectacular Men."
Madelyn Deutch, left, Zoey Deutch and Lea Thompson in "The Year of Spectacular Men." (Mar Vista Entertainment)

‘The Year of Spectacular Men’

The feature directing debut for actress Lea Thompson, “The Year of Spectacular Men” is a real family affair, written by and starring Thompson daughter Madelyn Deutch and with a supporting role from her other daughter, Zoey Deutch. The film is a story of young woman named Izzy struggling in the aftermath of a breakup.

Reviewing the film for The Times, Katie Walsh wrote, “It’s a fine debut for Madelyn, but the film is a little too pleased with its own cutesy, quirky writing and Izzy, unfortunately, rides a treacherous line between endearing and annoying.

For the New York Times, Teo Bugbee added, “Though ‘The Year of Spectacular Men’ never quite reaches comedic elegance, this heavily scripted movie is not as flat-footed as the hapless Izzy. There is a tuneful rhythm to the dialogue that might have been lost in a looser comedy, and the pleasure of watching actors throw lines back and forth is particularly evident in scenes between Izzy and Sabrina, whose chemistry reflects their real-life sibling bond.”

Thompson and her daughters all wrote about their experiences making the picture for The Times. As Thompson said, “When it actually came together, I knew it was important to create a space for my young writer to tell her own story with her own words because in my ingenue days every one of my words was written by an older man.”

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

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