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Indie Focus: Wrapping up TIFF, plus 'mother!,' 'First They Killed My Father' and 'Brad's Status'

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

The Toronto International Film Festival is wrapping up another year of discoveries and unveilings. All of our coverage can be found here, including portraits from our photo studio and video interviews.

Among the films to genuinely premiere in Toronto, and not play as part of the circuit of festivals that includes Venice and Telluride, was Craig Gillespie’s high-wire serio-comic “I, Tonya,” starring Margot Robbie in an unexpectedly sympathetic portrait of infamous figure skater Tonya Harding.

Brie Larson unveiled her feature directing debut, “Unicorn Store,” in which she stars as a young woman who becomes convinced she is about to receive, indeed, a unicorn.

French Turkish filmmaker Deniz Gamze Erguven made her English-language debut with “Kings,” set in Los Angeles in the buildup to and events of the 1992 riots and starring Halle Berry and Daniel Craig.

Steve Zeitchik spoke to Louis C.K. about his controversial film “I Love You, Daddy.”

And a special notice of the death this week of actor Harry Dean Stanton at the age of 91. He had come to take on a special meaning here in Los Angeles, representing a sense of struggle and perseverance and the unlikely grace that comes simply from surviving and sticking with it.

The movie “Lucky,” designed as an elegiac portrait in late repose starring Stanton, premiered earlier this year at South by Southwest and is opening soon. In a strange happenstance, I interviewed longtime Stanton collaborator and friend David Lynch just a few hours before the news of Stanton’s death broke. Noting what would be lost were the actor to leave us, Lynch called Stanton “the most natural actor going.”

We have begun booking upcoming events, including one very exciting movie and Q&A for later this month. Keep an eye on this space for updates on future events, or go to events.latimes.com.

“mother!”

Darren Aronofsky’s new “mother!” is somewhat hard to summarize, a wild psychological horror allegory for the environment (or some such) starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer.

In his review for The Times, Justin Chang noted, “You don’t need a notebook or a theology degree to understand, on a fundamental level, the deeper sense that this violently irrational movie is making. It comes together beautifully in your head even as everything else seems to be coming apart.”

Steve Zeitchik caught up with Aronofsky in New York, and anyone looking to the filmmaker for guidance as to how to take the film may be somewhat disappointed by his response. “Is this a horror movie or a psychological thriller or a home-invasion film? All of those are good,” Aronofsky said. “But I’m not sure what it is.”

At BuzzFeed, Alison Willmore tried to make sense of it all by calling it “an art film getting a wide release, a fascinating (and maybe doomed), stylistically radical, thematically unfriendly, and admirably … gamble. It doesn’t tell a story so much as it feels like it offers a warped self-portrait of someone admitting there are limits to what they’re willing to give, but not what they’re willing to take, and in the end they can just begin again with someone else.”

At the Associated Press, Lindsey Bahr called the film “an audacious, bold and fascinating fever dream of a film. It’s allegory for, well, everything (the environment, marriage, art, spirituality, you name it!), that will challenge, distress and edify anyone who chooses to submit themselves to this creation for two hours.”

‘First They Killed My Father”

Based on the memoir by Loung Ung, “First They Killed My Father” is directed and co-written by Angelina Jolie and feels in some way like an extension of both her work as a filmmaker and the humanitarian work with which she has long been involved. An intense, emotional vision of Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge era, the film follows a young girl struggling to hold onto the solace of family, love and something like everyday life.

In his review for The Times, Kenneth Turan observed, “Though this story couldn’t mean more to Jolie, she hasn’t been able to make it mean as much to us. Scrupulous and perhaps constrained at the thought of overdoing things, Jolie has allowed the enormity of the story to get the best of her, creating a film that is more disturbing than moving.”

Amy Nicholson, reviewing for Uproxx, wrote, “Jolie is choosing to use her megastar clout to insist audiences learn that one-quarter of the Cambodian population was slaughtered in her own lifetime. Raise your hand if you’d use your fame to do the same. And ‘First They Killed My Father’ is the best work she’s done yet.”

‘Brad’s Status’

The new film directed by Mike White, who also wrote the screenplay, “Brad’s Status” stars Ben Stiller as a man beset by anxiety that his life hasn’t added up in all the ways he would have liked. Taking his high school age son on a tour of potential colleges unleashes a torrent of anxiety and self-doubt.

In his review for The Times, Justin Chang noted, “Mike White has a knack for telling stories about the chasm between what people really want and who they really are. His sweet-and-sour satires are minefields of personal disappointment, bitterness and despair, littered with the wreckage of broken promises and unmet expectations.”

In his review for the New York Times, A.O. Scott called the film “astute, cringy and ultimately kindhearted “ while adding, “Mr. White has honed a comic sensibility that avoids cruelty and minimizes exaggeration. He is attuned to the political implications of individual behavior and also to those aspects of experience that can’t be politicized. His characters are bundles of contradictory impulses and qualities. They are admirable and awful, full of idealism and full of themselves, weird and entirely familiar.”

I spoke to White about the movie for a story that will be publishing soon. As he said, “For me, what I was hoping was that the movie would be kind of a sleight of hand, in that it seems like it’s this midlife crisis, existentialist comedy or whatever it is, and that just at some point, it reveals itself to be a father-son story.”

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

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