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Indie Focus: 15 tributes to Times film critic Kenneth Turan

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

This week we celebrate Kenneth Turan, who is stepping down from his position as film critic at The Times after nearly 30 years.

For his final piece under the byline of Times film critic, Kenny wrote a list of what he called the “free from fear 14,” movies sure to raise one’s spirits and wash worries away. As he put it, “Because being useful as a critic — being (to steal a title from Maimonides) a guide for the perplexed — has always been one of my guiding principles, it feels especially fitting that my final piece is not ruminative or filled with reminiscences but very much in that pragmatic spirit.”

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Justin Chang paid homage to someone he considers a teacher, a mentor, a colleague and a friend. As Justin wrote, “His reviews and essays were my first cinematic education, and an education of the most pleasurable kind; they projected authority, to be sure, but that authority was always worn lightly, with sly humor and easy, unfussy grace. Kenneth — though to those who know him, he will always be simply, unforgettably ‘Kenny’ — beckoned his readers into a conversation. He helped me make sense of what I loved, what I didn’t love and why the difference mattered.”

And I reached out to filmmakers — including Clint Eastwood, Jane Campion, Alexander Payne, Mike Leigh, Raoul Peck, Steve James, Nicole Holofcener and more — for their own tributes and recollections. As Leigh said, “To be reviewed by Kenny is often a revelation and always a joy.”

This week the movie “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” comes to VOD. Having won prizes at Sundance and Berlin, the film was only a few days into its release when theaters around the country began shutting down. Written and directed by Eliza Hittman, with its story of a young woman seeking access to an abortion, the movie has an urgency to it made all the more timely by recent events.

The South by Southwest Film Festival and Amazon Prime Video announced this week that a selection of movies scheduled for this year’s festival, canceled due to the pandemic, will stream for 10 days later in April for free on Amazon. Titles will be announced soon.

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The streaming site Mubi and Fondazione Prada are putting on a joint curatorial collaboration with “Perfect Failures,” a series of movies misunderstood on original release. Launching April 5 and starting with Richard Kelly’s “Southland Tales,” the series will also feature Charlie Chaplin’s “A Countess in New York,” Billy Wilder’s “Fedora,” Kelly Reichardt’s “Night Moves,” Chantal Akerman’s “A Couch in New York” and Paul Verhoeven’s “Showgirls.” Now that’s a lineup.

For anyone looking for prompts on what to watch at home, local film programmers KJ Relth and Suki-Rose Simakis have started a program known as Remote Viewing Cinema, where they pick a double feature every day from streamable sources. The selections have been a great mix of the unexpected, the obscure and old favorites.

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‘The Other Lamb’

The English-language debut from Polish writer-director Malgorzata Szumowska, “The Other Lamb” is a fraught drama set amid a cult — Times critic Justin Chang called it “part ‘Handmaid’s Tale,’ part ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene.’” In the film Raffey Cassidy plays Selah, a young woman struggling to escape the oppressive bonds of a mysterious leader known as the Shepherd (Michiel Huisman). Released by IFC Midnight, the film is available on VOD.

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For The Times, Justin Chang singled out Cassidy’s performance for her “watchful intelligence and eerie, preternatural calm.” He added, “As a study in atmospheric seclusion, ‘The Other Lamb’ is beautifully crafted enough to hold your attention, but you can’t shake the feeling that Selah’s next chapter — and Cassidy’s — might well be the more interesting movie.”

For rogerebert.com, Monica Castillo wrote, “As Selah, Cassidy does an immense job portraying a girl learning the ugly truth of her world. She’s torn by the desire for her Shephard, the guilt of having failed him before and a sense of reluctance from a feeling that what he was doing was wrong … Cassidy holds in all of these fears within her characters’ nervous looks while trying to remain calm as Huisman’s charismatic but controlling leader eyes Selah like his next meal — a wolf in shepherd’s clothing.”

For The Guardian, Benjamin Lee said of Cassidy and Huisman, “Like the film surrounding them, they’re aesthetically magnetic if a little underpowered. Szumowska is a visually confident director capable of constructing some magnificent imagery, but it’s a film that’s forever threatening to be more style than substance. By the end, there’s just about enough to stop that from becoming the case but for it to haunt further than the end credits, it really needed more.”

Raffey Cassidy and Michiel Huisman in the movie "The Other Lamb."
Raffey Cassidy and Michiel Huisman in the movie “The Other Lamb.”
(IFC Films)

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‘Clover’

Starring Jon Abrahams — who also directs — alongside Mark Webber, “Clover” is a throwback mob thriller. Telling the story of two bumbling brothers already in over their heads with the mob before they become entangled with a street-wise teenage girl (Nicole Elizabeth Berger), the movie has an impressive supporting cast, including Chazz Palminteri, Erika Christensen, Ron Perlman and more. Distributed by Freestyle Digital Media, the movie is available on VOD.

Reviewing for The Times, Noel Murray wrote, “Mostly though, ‘Clover’ relies on the chemistry between Abrahams and Webber, as an irascible pair of losers who prove unexpectedly resourceful. These two don’t act like they’re in a derivative mob movie. They genuinely seem like they’re just trying to make it to the end of a really, really bad day at work.”

For the New York Times, Devika Girish wrote that the film “strains for the mob intrigue of Martin Scorsese and the rapturous, bloody stylization of Quentin Tarantino. It’s chock-full of gore and expletive-laden banter, but lacks the key ingredients to make it worthy of its influences: original ideas and a strong script.”

For IndieWire, Kate Erbland added, “Abrahams, who also stars in the film, has at least one thing down for his sophomore turn behind the camera: top-notch casting, the kind that can spice up even the blandest of projects. Fortunately for the fledgling filmmaker, ‘Clover’ is populated almost exclusively with a motley assortment of characters, the kind that can temporarily distract from a been-there, done-that script.”

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Jon Abrahams, left, and Mark Webber in a scene from "Clover."
Jon Abrahams, left, and Mark Webber in a scene from “Clover.”
(Emily Argones/Virtuoso Films)

‘Justine’

Stephanie Turner is director, writer and star of “Justine,” in which she plays a recently widowed woman named Lisa who takes a job caring for an 8-year-old girl with spina bifida (Daisy Prescott). She gets a lot more than she expected. Distributed by Array, the movie is now available on Netflix.

Reviewing the film for The Times, Robert Abele wrote, “If your diet of streaming during these anxious weeks allows for something small, human and bittersweet between more diverting pick-me-ups, actress Stephanie Turner’s directorial debut, ‘Justine,’ is an adroitly contained indie that’s worth your attention.”

Also for The Times, Ben Brazil wrote about the movie when it premiered last year at the Newport Beach Film Festival. Speaking about the motivations behind the story, Turner said, “I also wanted to simply tell a story about people who think they are very different from one another. My desire was to show how in everyday life people make judgments, comments and assumptions about others when they, in fact, know nothing about them. We all do it all the time. I wanted to create characters that seem very set in their ways, and then explore how they could be affected by the events and people around them.”

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For the New York Times, Natalia Winkelman wrote, “‘Justine’ makes an earnest case for letting kids live a little. As actors, Turner and Prescott mesh naturally, and Glynn Turman, who plays Lisa’s obliging father-in-law, provides a sympathetic foil to Lisa and her frequent bad temper. The bonds these characters forge are organic and heartfelt; even in sentimental moments, Turner wisely declines to tug on any heartstrings. We care about her characters enough already.”

Stephanie Turner, left, and Daisy Prescott in the movie "Justine."
(Array)

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