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Indie Focus: A mobster’s weird spiral in ‘Capone’

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

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Streaming on YouTube through Sunday is the rare filmed concert “Prince and the Revolution: Live.” Recorded in Syracuse, N.Y., on March 30, 1985, the performance was less than a week after the Academy Awards where Prince won for the music in “Purple Rain.” Which may explain why there is something extra special about this show, something epic and joyful — even someone as ethereally cool as Prince got a boost from winning an Oscar. The streaming event is in support of the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for the World Health Organization, and viewer donations will be matched by Google.

The Anthology Film Archives has posted online “Notes on an American Film Director at Work: Martin Scorsese,” a 2005 film made by Jonas Mekas, a titan of American avant-garde and independent filmmaking who died last year. The film finds Mekas spending time on the set of “The Departed,” and Scorsese seems simply delighted by his presence. And Martin Sheen generously gives him pie from craft services.

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Probably my favorite thing I watched this week, the film is a fascinating document, giving some sense of the focus and intensity Scorsese brings to his work but also capturing the odd start-stop rhythms of film production. I mean, do you want to watch Martin Scorsese lift handweights between takes? Of course you do.

Former Times film critic and columnist Jack Mathews died this week at 80 from pancreatic cancer at his home in Oregon. Matthews was a pioneer in modern awards coverage, and in a series of articles that became the basis for his 1987 book “The Battle for Brazil,” he chronicled the feud between filmmaker Terry Gilliam and studio executive Sid Sheinberg over the final cut of the movie “Brazil.”

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‘Capone’

Directed by Josh Trank — the one-time wunderkind who crashed hard with his “Fantastic Four” flop and left a “Star Wars” project before it had begun — “Capone” is a wild cross-pollination of personal psychodrama and gangster movie. Tom Hardy stars as Al Capone near the end of his life, slowly losing his faculties and unable to remember where he hid $10 million. Released by Vertical Entertainment, the movie is available via video-on-demand and virtual cinemas.

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For The Times, Katie Walsh wrote, “‘Capone’ is an angry, violent and despairing film, without much of a point other than that existence can be angry and despairing and memory is a prison. As a piece of art, entertainment or cultural ephemera, it is indeed bold, but it is significant not for what it says about Capone but, rather, what it says about Trank and the ongoing saga of his career.”

For Vanity Fair, Richard Lawson wrote, “There is, alas, nothing enriching about ‘Capone.’ It offers none of the robust competence these dwindling-culture times are running low on. Perhaps more dismayingly, it’s not even entertaining. The film’s arresting oddity is fleeting, and then we’re just made to sit with it for another humid 90 minutes. Saying that ‘Capone’ is a disappointment would sound overdramatic in any other year — what was I expecting, ‘Capote’?? — but here in the barren lands of 2020, I must admit I was a little let down.”

At Vulture, Alison Willmore said, “The only thing that makes the monotony tolerable is Hardy’s go-for-broke performance, which isn’t effective but is mesmerizing. … He’s so obviously enjoying himself that there’s a gratification in watching him even when the performance feels more like performance art. And while that might not be the kind of emotional payoff Trank was aiming for with the film, it is, nevertheless, a memorable spectacle — the actor turned loose to eat the world, with no one daring to hold him back.”

For Time, Stephanie Zacharek called the movie “an odd little film, at times weirdly engaging but often so bizarrely muddled that you might identify a little too closely with its perpetually unglued protagonist. But Hardy is always worth watching. Thanks to prosthetics, his face has the same doughy contours we see in pictures of the real Capone, but his eyes, at once dead and ruthless, do most of the work. This is the hollow gaze of a man who once had great, if ill-gotten, power and who is now just an old man before his time. … The moral of ‘Capone,’ left behind in its blurry wake, is that crime doesn’t pay. Especially when you can’t remember where you hid the money.”

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Linda Cardellini and Tom Hardy in the movie “Capone.”
Linda Cardellini and Tom Hardy in the movie “Capone.”
(Alan Markfield)

‘Clementine’

Written and directed by Lara Jean Gallagher in her feature directing debut, “Clementine” mixes the psychological thriller and sexual coming-of-age story. After a bad break-up, Karen (Otmara Marrero) goes to her ex’s family lake house, where she meets an enigmatic young woman (Sydney Sweeney). Released by Oscilloscope Laboratories, the movie is available via virtual cinemas

For the New York Times, Devika Girish wrote that the “push-and-pull of attraction is explored rather superficially. … And although the camera’s attention to faces and gazes, coupled with an eerie soundtrack, conjures a vague mood of suspense and seduction, the plot fizzles out quickly without any real provocations.”

For The Wrap, Steve Pond wrote, “As arty and distinctive as you’d expect from an Oscilloscope film, ‘Clementine’ nonetheless struggles to be involving as it tells an uneasy story in a determinedly subdued way.”

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Otmara Marrero. left, and Sydney Sweeney in “Clementine.”
Otmara Marrero. left, and Sydney Sweeney in “Clementine.”
(Oscilloscope Laboratories )

‘Fourteen’

Made by critic and filmmaker Dan Sallitt, “Fourteen” is a story of a friendship running its course. Mara and Jo (Tallie Medel and Norma Kuhling) have been friends since childhood. Now in their 20s, Mara is on the verge of settling into a career and stable relationship, while Jo seems to keep spiraling out of control, putting an increasing strain on their relationship. Released by Grasshopper Film, the movie is available via virtual cinemas, including L.A.'s Acropolis Cinema.

For the New Yorker, Richard Brody wrote, “The diverging paths and seething conflicts of two lifelong friends, now young Brooklyn professionals, are explored deeply and poignantly in this deceptively calm melodrama. … Mara and Jo see each other through a series of romantic troubles, with the burden of care landing on the more settled Mara’s shoulders; the resulting frustrations play out in sharply written, briskly staged, urgently performed sequences that leap daringly ahead in time through the friends’ major life changes and convey the sense of days being seized from looming chaos.”

For the New York Times, Teo Bugbee wrote, “As Mara’s life moves forward and Jo’s falls apart, time starts to move faster. Instead of it being a week since Mara last saw Jo, it’s a year, and then several years. What begins as a movie with two protagonists almost imperceptibly evolves into a movie with just one — a touching demonstration of how narratives that seem inevitably intertwined can unravel.”

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At IndieWire, David Ehrlich wrote, “As the film jumps ever faster into the future, moving through time like a pebble skipping across the surface of a lake, Mara’s sense of things starts to dovetail with our own. And when lifetimes of latent drama come home to roost in the surprisingly eventful final scenes, ‘Fourteen’ builds to an unsparingly lucid assessment of what two friends can take from — and carry for — each other. Everyone is responsible to the people they love, but only so far, and only so long.”

Tallie Medel, left, and Norma Kuhling in “Fourteen.”
Tallie Medel, left, and Norma Kuhling in “Fourteen.”
(Grasshopper Film)


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