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Indie Focus: A spectrum of emotions and music in 'Echo Park,' 'Green Room' and 'Sing Street'

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

This week I reviewed the new comedy “Barbershop: The Next Cut,” the latest in what has become a venerable franchise. Directed by Malcolm D. Lee from a script by Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver, “the new film amplifies those films' positive qualities even while suffering from essentially the same drawbacks. Regardless, ‘The Next Cut’ manages to be entertaining and thoughtful, harmless fun but just serious enough not to seem frivolous.”

We’ve got some pretty exciting screenings and Q&As coming together (honest!) at Indie Focus HQ. Check back at events.latimes.com for more info.

Nonstop movies. Movies nonstop.

‘Echo Park’

The new film “Echo Park,” the feature debut for director Amanda Marsalis, is indeed filmed and set in and around the Los Angeles neighborhood of Echo Park. In the film a woman (Mamie Gummer) leaves behind the upscale ennui of her life in Beverly Hills to start fresh in a new part of town. Once there she meets a British expat (Tony Okungbowa) who is preparing to leave. The clock is ticking on their relationship even as it is just beginning.

In his review for The Times, Martin Tsai noted how “For once, a woman's self-fulfillment is the top item on a movie's agenda.”

In the New York Times, Ken Jaworowski called it “An understated and often charming film … this quietly poignant film is exploring what’s below the surface.”

Marsalis did an interview with Valentina I. Valentini at Twitch during last summer’s L.A. Film Fest, where she said: “It has been the scariest part of the whole process, releasing the film into the world after so much work and just letting it be. I've learned so much in the process, I'm not sure I even understand yet what I am taking away. I can't wait to do it all again though.”

The film is being released by the company Array. We’ve featured its podcast “The Call-In” before, and it's posted an insightful conversation between Marsalis and Okungbowa.

‘Green Room’

At once a throwback to the underground culture of punk rock, with its secret networks of crash pads, tricks for touring and gigs where you find them, Jeremy Saulnier’s new film “Green Room” is first and foremost a gut-punch siege thriller. Along with “The Initiation” it is probably the most anxiety-inducing, tension-filled movie of the year so far.

A touring group known as the Ain’t Rights find themselves at an unexpected gig at a remote roundhouse in the Pacific Northwest. Things go bad after they stumble upon a dead body in their dressing room, and they soon have to try to fight their way out. The film features a villainous turn by Patrick Stewart, as well as strong work by Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat and Macon Blair.

In his review for The Times, Robert Abele wrote, “‘Green Room’ is such a gonzo knockout of siege cinema — ‘Deliverance’ meets ‘Assault on Precinct 13’ — that you hope it finds an appreciative audience beyond horror lovers already itching to embrace it.”

At NPR, Scott Tobias wrote: “Mostly, though, Saulnier excels at writing his heroes into a corner, sometimes literally, and figuring out ingenious ways to keep them in the fight. … They try and often they fail, with gut-wrenching consequences.”

Tasha Robinson at the Verge did an informative Q&A with Saulnier, in which he said of punk: “This movie at least tries to harness the energy and tension and aggression of the music itself.”

I’ll be publishing something on the film soon. Comparing “Green Room” to his previous film, a likewise low-budget thriller called “Blue Ruin,” filmmaker Saulnier said, “I’m lucky enough to have my films remain, for better or worse, unfiltered.”

‘Sing Street’

After the films “Once” and “Begin Again,” filmmaker John Carney is back with “Sing Street.” With his new film Carney is again crafting a modern take on the movie musical, this time with a tinge of autobiographical nostalgia.

Set in Dublin in the 1980s, the film focuses on a high school boy who starts a band more or less for the purpose of impressing a slightly older girl.

In her review for The Times, Katie Walsh called the film “a sweetly funny, charming and poignant depiction of this very specific time in life — at once universal and specific — when anything seems possible.”

In the New York Times, A.O. Scott said: “The movie understands how enchantment and disappointment go together, like the A and B sides of a single that won’t leave the turntable.”

Over at MTV News, Teo Bugbee wrote about Carney’s three movies by saying: “When it comes to representing the experience of musicians from a musician’s perspective, you’d have a hard time finding a filmmaker more committed than John Carney.”

Jason Bailey at Flavorwire situated Carney within the tradition of the movie musical and how “the idea that when you find your way into a song, you can create your own destiny. And inside that song and the world you make there, everything works out, and anything is possible.”

I’ll be publishing a story of my own on the film soon. Carney spoke to me about whether he categorizes his films as musicals in the strict classical definition of the term.

“I think my sort of M.O. is to try to make a musical not seem like a musical,” Carney said. “My ambition in these three movies was to try to make a musical that looks like a drama.”

Whit Stillman trilogy

You can expect to hear about filmmaker Whit Stillman at least once more in this space in the coming months, perhaps even more. His latest film, “Love and Friendship,” is coming out next month, and any new film from Stillman is a cause for excitement. After his initial trilogy of “Metropolitan,” “Barcelona” and “The Last Days of Disco” he seemingly went silent for nearly 15 years before 2012’s “Damsels in Distress.”

This week the Criterion Collection is releasing “Barcelona” for the first time, on its own and packaged as part of a box set alongside their previous releases of “Metropolitan” and “Disco.” Besides his delicate, specific touch as a writer and director, Stillman is also a world-class talker, and so the commentary tracks on all three films, which place him with various cast members, all warm, witty and wise. The “Barcelona” disc also features a new video essay on the trilogy made by critic Farran Smith Nehme and hilarious early-'90s talk show appearances with Stillman on the “Today” show, “The Dick Cavett Show” and “Charlie Rose.”

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

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