Hello! I'm Mark Olsen, and welcome to your weekly field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.
I cannot stress enough how exciting the Chantal Akerman tribute programs spotlighted below are for the cinema scene in Los Angeles. We are a world-class city for moviegoing, and to see multiple organizations come together for this series of events is a sign of common cause and community. That alone is something worth supporting.
And we're working, as always, to put together some fresh screenings and Q&As. Check back at events.latimes.com for more info.
Nonstop movies. Movies nonstop.
Chantal Akerman tribute
When filmmaker Chantal Akerman died last fall at 65, it brought an abrupt halt to a voice that had come to seem a constant. She was a towering and transformative figure, and it has taken the time since her death to take stock of what is really missing now that she is gone. What's been brought into focus is the rich depths of her work. Parallel tribute series in New York and Los Angeles are making much of her work available to audiences.
Rachel Donadio wrote a beautiful and comprehensive overview of Akerman's life and career for the New York Times. (If you read only one piece among these Akerman tributes, make it this one.)
Also in the New York Times, Manohla Dargis recently reviewed what would come to be Akerman's final film, "No Home Movie," and gave a fine description of how best to approach Akerman's work, which can often feel forbidding and intimidating in its rigor. Dargis said, "You need to meet Ms. Akerman on her terms, although even when you do, her work may not completely open itself up to you, even after repeated viewings. Its difficulty (or mystery), which can feel like her stubborn persistence of vision, is part of its pleasure."
In the Village Voice, Eric Hynes interviewed cinematographer Babette Mangolte, who worked with Akerman on five films, including 1975's landmark "Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels." Mangolte said, "Those films feel very alive. I don't think 'Jeanne Dielman' has taken one wrinkle. The intensity of loneliness is always of today."
As Melissa Anderson said also in the Village Voice, "How painful — how inconceivable — that we can never know where her boundless curiosity would have led her next."
I'll be publishing my own piece on the L.A. Akerman programs soon. Filmmaker Andrew Bujalski was a student of Akerman's, and he kindly shared his remarks from a recent tribute to her in NYC. He breathed fresh life into her image by saying, "I know that her reputation for incisiveness and brilliance will live as long as cinema does, but since the devastating news of her death I find myself constantly wanting to remind people of her warmth."
As to whether he could pinpoint any specific influence from her, he added, "The truth is that her influence was much deeper and harder to quantify, and it was entirely personal. It was the influence of seeing an artist navigate a world that's rarely easy on artists, and doing so uncompromisingly, unapologetically, and — this is the most important part — generously."
Don Cheadle stars in, co-wrote, directed and produced the new film "Miles Ahead," an unusual portrait of jazz great Miles Davis. The film is not a straightforward biographical telling of Davis' life but, rather, an impressionistic view of his life and music, with a towering performance by Cheadle as well as supporting turns by Ewan McGregor, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Lakeith Lee Stanfield and Michael Stuhlbarg.
I spoke to Cheadle about the making of this unusual movie.
"To me it's saying, this is the best part of the Miles Davis that I know," said Cheadle, "this creative energy, the quest to never stop trying to figure out the next thing to say."
In his review of the film for The Times, Kenneth Turan said, "A biographical drama centering on a handful of periods in the life of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, this valentine to jazz in all its forms stars Don Cheadle in arguably the best performance of his decades-long career, as vibrant a portrait of a difficult, passionate, committed creative artist as anyone could wish for."
In Vulture, David Edelstein noted, "The movie's actual scenario is a pure fantasia, complete with a McGuffin … Everything that's great in 'Miles Ahead' seems marginal to the main plot — when Cheadle lets himself go with the flow."
At BuzzFeed, Alison Willmore wrote about Cheadle and "Miles Ahead" in relation to Ethan Hawke's turn as Chet Baker in "Born to Be Blue " and Tom Hiddleston in "I Saw the Light."
Alan Light was on set for the film's production for the New York Times, while Variety has a nice Q&A with production designer Hannah Beachler on creating the film's look.
'Everybody Wants Some!!'
Richard Linklater is among my personal favorite contemporary filmmakers. His first feature, "Slacker," had a very strong impact on me when it first came out, and he has remained someone I've followed closely ever since.
I was especially excited to get called up to review his latest, "Everybody Wants Some!!," a comedy set within a college baseball team hanging out in the final days before the start of a school year. The movie is about the in-between times or, as I wrote in my review, "Whatever is to be officially taught will likely not much compare to what will be conveyed on the ball field and off, in bars and on walks and just hanging out. School may just be starting, but the lessons have already begun."
At Time, Stephanie Zacharek said, "'Everybody Wants Some!!' captures the essence of all sorts of youthful desires, both those that are easily identifiable and the more aching, unnameable kind. With the grace of a surreptitious curveball and the ease of a perfect pop song, Linklater reveals one of the great secrets of life: to have everything is impossible, but to get some is to have everything."
Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune called the film "a minor pleasure from a deceptively major American filmmaker."
My colleague Steve Zeitchik spent some time with Linklater and his cast at the filmmaker's Texas ranch, where he had them bond before filming.
"This movie was about a team," Linklater said, "and I really needed all the actors to get along."
'Losing Ground' and 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'
Yes, we are purposefully putting the home video releases of a little-known, nearly lost film from 1982 that was only really rediscovered within the last few years alongside one of the biggest, best-known movies of all time. And, yes, it is intended as something of a statement of purpose, as a big part of what the Indie Focus umbrella means is discovery, context, juxtaposition and, most of all, an open-minded expansiveness. Every movie is on the table. We are hoping for something wondrous and transporting every time the lights go down in the theater and every time we hit play on a personal screen.
Kathleen Collins' "Losing Ground" is the story of a couple at a crossroads, as a female college professor (Seret Scott) and her painter husband (Bill Gunn) must decide whether they want to stay together. The film manages both a lightness and a depth that are remarkable. The New Yorker's Richard Brody lauded Collins' "transformative simplicity … 'Losing Ground' plays like the record of a life revealed in real time."
Presented now on disc in a comprehensive package from Milestone Film & Video, with an archival interview with Collins, commentary tracks, new interviews with key collaborators and an earlier Collins 50-minute mini-feature,"Losing Ground" will be lost no more.
Up to now we have not mentioned "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" in this space. We may prefer our films a bit heady, but that does not make us heartless — we're snobs, fine, but we're not monsters. And so the charm, sense of adventure, rousing emotions and startlingly good performances in the film were not lost on us. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver and the rest of the cast make this the best acted film so far in the series, and the new home video presentation has a nice package of behind-the-scenes features. (And it turns out the movie is extremely rewatchable.)