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Indie Focus: Suspense and discovery with '10 Cloverfield Lane' and the SXSW Film Fest

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

This is actually kind of an exciting time of year on the movie calendar, after awards season, not yet the summer movie season and a moment when distributors seem to want to release an awful lot of movies. Just check the weekly reviews to see how many films are coming out in the next few weeks. It’s kind of nuts, but also fun, and if you can’t find something to go see, well, you’re just not looking.

We’ll have more screening and Q&A events coming soon, so check back at events.latimes.com for more info.

Nonstop movies. Movies nonstop.

‘10 Cloverfield Lane’

Produced by J.J. Abrams, “10 Cloverfield Lane” both is and is not a follow-up/sequel to the 2008 film “Cloverfield.” It’s almost too complicated to explain briefly.

Allow The Times’ Meredith Woerner to try, for as she put it, “So what does ‘10 Cloverfield Lane’ have to do with the 2008 found-footage monster movie? According to gatekeeper Abrams, everything and nothing.”

I reviewed the movie for The Times and found it to be exactly the kind of film most difficult to write about in a way that reflects how I feel about it. Depending on the moment, I can convince myself I like it but with some reservations, or that it’s a movie where my problems with it overwhelm the things I do like.

In either scenario, the movie is buoyed by the performances of Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman, with able support from John Gallagher Jr.

Or, as I put it in my review, “As with its predecessor, the movie manages to be smart and shallow at the same time, satisfied with a disposable showman's flair rather than pushing on to something deeper and more resonant. It is designed to be fun, efficient and accessible and delivers precisely and exactly on that and nothing more.”

Dave Itzkoff at the New York Times wrote a typically fine, fun piece on the background of the movie. In moving between a claustrophobic chamber drama and something more expansive, director Dan Trachtenberg said, “It was fun to play with expectations of when you want the movie to feel big or small.”

South by Southwest Film Festival

I have gone to Austin, Texas, a number of times for the South by Southwest Film Festival and have always made some exciting discoveries. This year should be no different.

I wrote a preview/overview of the festival before heading out, noting such high-profile films as “Midnight Special,” “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday” and “Keanu,” as well as movies needing more of a push toward the spotlight, such as “Miss Stevens,” “Little Sister” and “Jean of the Joneses.”

My colleague Steve Zeitchik is also in Austin. He previously wrote about “Everybody Wants Some,” the new film by Austin-based filmmaker Richard Linklater and the festival’s opening-night film.

The film covers a few days before the start of the school year for some college baseball players, and Linklater voiced his own concerns as to whether he could corral the film’s ensemble cast.

Linklater said, “I think I'm also better at it because of what comes with age and experience. I'm more relaxed, anyway."

You can keep up with our coverage of the festival here.

‘Hello, My Name Is Doris’

Having first premiered at last year’s SXSW festival, “Hello, My Name Is Doris” is the first starring role for Sally Field in far, far too long. Directed and co-written by Michael Showalter, the film is the story of a woman (Field) who finds herself adrift after the death of her beloved mother and throws herself into romantically pursing a much younger man (Max Greenfield).

In the New York Times, Manohla Dargis captured Showalter’s over-the-top style when she wrote, “I kept thinking no, no, no, no. It’s all much too much (those shoes, that hair!) and together they announce that you’re in for an ingratiatingly cutesy slog about a lovable kook — except that the movie and Doris aren’t easy to love, which is partly why they work.”

In his review in the Los Angeles Times, Gary Goldstein added, “Sally Field gives perhaps the year's first Oscar-worthy lead actress performance in the funny, beguiling and affecting ‘Hello, My Name Is Doris,’ a brave little film that shows it's never too late to come of age.”

‘Knight of Cups,’ take two

Didn’t we talk about this movie last week, you ask? Yes, we did. However, just as my own experience with the new Terrence Malick movie was one of initial confusion that blossomed over time and reflection into something deeper and more rewarding, it seems “Knight of Cups” has continued to inspire some of the most insightful and committed film writing of the year so far.

In an insightful essay at BuzzFeed, Alison Willmore bounced the film and its main character, played by Christian Bale, off the new television series “Vinyl” and it’s main character, played by Bobby Cannavale.

Willmore posits that both, with their stories of male crisis and malaise, essentially follow the wrong character, as she writes, “They’re not the most compelling people onscreen, and yet they’re the characters these self-serious stories are focused on. Everyone else is left on the sideline, hoping that someday they’ll get a chance at the spotlight.”

At the New Yorker, Richard Brody writes powerfully from in essence the exact opposite position when he says, “It’s an instant classic in several genres — the confessional, the inside-Hollywood story, the Dantesque midlife-crisis drama, the religious quest, the romantic struggle, the sexual reverie, the family melodrama — because the protagonist’s life, like most people’s lives, involves intertwined strains of activity that don’t just overlap but are inseparable from each other. The movie runs less than two hours and its focus is intimate, but its span seems enormous — not least because Malick has made a character who’s something of an alter ego, and he endows that character with an artistic identity and imagination as vast and as vital as his own.”

For the New York Times, Chris Lee captured the at times absurdist humor of Malick’s production and portraying the essence of Hollywood. As novelist Bruce Wagner, who appears as himself, said, “There was a strong sense of controlled chaos. You could be creative, but it was still very much Malick’s world.”

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

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