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Indie Focus: Astronaut drama in ‘Proxima’

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

Obviously the drama that was gripping everyone this week did not come from a movie or television show. Nevertheless, I know I found myself grateful to take an occasional break from election returns to watch something else.

One of the movies I watched was 1987’s “The Untouchables.” Actor Sean Connery, who died last weekend at 90, won his only Oscar for his role in the film as a tough Chicago cop. Though best known for originating the role of James Bond, setting the template for a film franchise now more than 50 years old, Connery was that rare combination of actor and star.

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Mary McNamara and Justin Chang wrote an incisive, clear-eyed tribute to Connery. “We think of him as very much a strong, often larger-than-life leading man, always very much himself, with that unmistakable voice and accent and a face able to seem soulful, steely or mischievous around that inevitable granite jaw,” Mary noted. “That kind of male charm doesn’t exist so much any more, in part because we question it more than we once did.”

Josh Rottenberg spoke with Christopher Nolan about Tom Shone’s new book about him, “The Nolan Variations,” and about the filmmaker’s film “Tenet.”

Nolan said, “I am worried that the studios are drawing the wrong conclusions from our release — that rather than looking at where the film has worked well and how that can provide them with much needed revenue, they’re looking at where it hasn’t lived up to pre-COVID expectations and will start using that as an excuse to make exhibition take all the losses from the pandemic instead of getting in the game and adapting — or rebuilding our business, in other words. Long term, moviegoing is a part of life, like restaurants and everything else. But right now, everybody has to adapt to a new reality.”

Over the last few years, the 1985 film “Smooth Talk” has seen its reputation revived. The film won the grand jury prize that year at Sundance, and in a review at the time, Times critic Sheila Benson said it “may be the first film to get adolescence in America right, down to the last, delicate seismographic tremor.” Directed by Joyce Chopra and adapted from a short story by Joyce Carol Oates, the film gave a then-18-year-old Laura Dern her first lead role in a movie, as a teenage girl who encounters an older man, played with charm and menace by Treat Williams. (Mary Kay Place and Levon Helm also appear as Dern’s beleaguered parents.) A new 4K restoration is available from the virtual cinema of Film at Lincoln Center.

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‘Proxima’

Written and directed by Alice Winocour, “Proxima” stars Eva Green as an astronaut who struggles with the intense isolation of her duties while trying to maintain her responsibilities as a mother to her young daughter. Released by Vertical Entertainment, the movie is available on VOD platforms.

For The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “In her earlier features ‘Augustine’ and ‘Disorder,’ Winocour demonstrated a gift for sensory filmmaking, for bringing the audience into an intimate, tactile understanding of her characters’ physical and psychological states. She accomplishes something equally evocative here, and the achievement isn’t hers alone. Green, often typecast as witches and femmes fatales, here takes on a too-rare leading role devoid of any such fantastical trappings and emerges with one of the strongest performances of her career.”

For the New York Times, Jeannette Catsoulis wrote, “Torn between the maternal and the cosmic, the tactile and the unearthly, ‘Proxima’ feels as unsettled as its heroine. And while the film’s feminist thrust is admirable, Winocour’s decision to sacrifice this for a cheap, sentimental finale is infuriating. As Sarah’s reckless last-minute actions jeopardize not only her lifelong dream, but the mission itself, they also disappointingly undermine the movie’s own thesis: that the demands of motherhood and high-stakes careers are not mutually exclusive.”

For Variety, Guy Lodge wrote, “An unostentatious but quietly dazzling meditation on womanhood in the largely patriarchal space race, Alice Winocour’s highly satisfying third feature outdoes many more lavish Hollywood efforts in evoking the otherworldly emotional disconnect that comes with space travel, all without leaving terra firma for the vast bulk of its running time.”

Eva Green, right, and Zélie Boulant-Lemesle in the movie “Proxima.”
(Vertical Entertainment)

‘Jungleland’

Directed and cowritten by Max Winkler, “Jungleland” is about two brothers, Stanley and Lion (Charlie Hunnam and Jack O’Connell), making their way across the country. Lion is a ferocious bare-knuckle boxer, while Stanley manages his career and their wayward lives. Then a bad debt to the wrong people finds them supervising a young woman named Sky (Jessica Barden) on their way to California. Released by Vertical Entertainment and Paramount Home Entertainment, the movie is in limited release where theaters are open and will be available on VOD and digital Nov. 10.

For The Times, Katie Walsh wrote, “There’s a mythic quality to their cross-country odyssey, which is bloody and emotionally and physically brutal but also poignant. With Stan’s dreams of California’s bounty, it almost feels like the Gold Rush. In this strange little family, Stan is a stern, paternal figure to Lion, demanding more and more of him physically, proclaiming that it’s for his own good, that he’s special, talented. But it’s just to take more and more, which Lion offers freely for the care and attention of his older brother, his only family. Ultimately, Lion and Sky are just packages, vessels, prized for their abilities, not their souls. Their chosen names are symbolic, representing his ferocity and loyal heart and her desire for freedom. Despite the odds stacked against them, when these two realize they can be free, the sky’s the limit.”

For the AV Club, Carlos Aguilar wrote, “Despite all the predictable antics, ‘Jungleland’ is more engrossing as a dual character study than as an underworld drama. At its most efficacious, ‘Jungleland’ rivals films like ‘Warrior’ or ‘The Fighter’ as a heartfelt representation of visceral brotherhood, truthful in its portrayal of companionship and loyalty. Hunnam and O’Connell are so wonderfully affecting together, one wishes their characters could exist in a better screenplay, one that inquired more profoundly into their shared history beyond a ‘get rich or die trying’ scheme. Perhaps a prequel, or even a sequel, could do them justice.”

Jessica Barden, left, Jack O'Connell and Charlie Hunnam in "Jungleland."
Jessica Barden, left, Jack O’Connell and Charlie Hunnam in “Jungleland.”
(Paramount Pictures)

‘Let Him Go’

Written and directed by “The Family Stone” filmmaker Thomas Bezucha and adapted from the novel by Larry Watson, “Let Him Go” is a solid neo-western pushed forward by a sharp cast. A retired couple (Diane Lane, Kevin Costner) are grieving the death of their son when his widow (Kayli Carter) remarries and abruptly moves away with their grandson. Concerned about their well-being, the couple goes in search of them, leading to a confrontation with the tough matriarch (Lesley Manville) of the new husband’s family. Released by Focus Features, the film is playing in theaters where they are open.

For The Times, Katie Walsh called the film “at once spare and syrupy,” while adding, “Bezucha’s style is unshowy, using the beauty of the natural landscape. A score by Michael Giacchino lends the melodrama, while Manville, unleashed, shows a new, campier side. In many ways, it feels like the midcentury pulp thrillers it emulates: well-plotted and grisly but almost ephemeral. It is Lane’s performance that lingers, one that dares to be uniquely hopeful about the future and letting the old ways die.”

For Vanity Fair, Richard Lawson wrote, “This is, in truth, a B-movie through and through. Even its attempts at stoic quiet have their own kind of melodrama. (That’s what Kevin Costner does, after all.) Which is perfectly fine! As exactly that, ‘Let Him Go’ is a swift entertainment, claustrophobic and anxious in its depiction of an impossible, frustrating situation, and satisfying in its gnarly climax. Just don’t go in expecting something with awards-y heft. This is not, despite its aesthetic indications, that kind of movie.”

For the Guardian, Benjamin Lee wrote, “Underneath the slick studio surface, there’s something compellingly discordant about ‘Let Him Go,’ as one might expect from a violent thriller brought to the screen by the guy who made ‘The Family Stone’ and ‘Monte Carlo.’ For the most part, there’s an earnest, old-fashioned sturdiness to writer-director Thomas Bezucha’s tale, anchored by the reliable, old-shoes pairing of Lane and Costner, who last parented in 2013’s ‘Man of Steel.’ … What’s most interesting about the couple’s dynamic is how Lane takes the lead, the active to Costner’s passive, driven not only by a mother’s love but also a righteous anger.”

Diane Lane and Kevin Costner in Thomas Bezucha’s "Let Him Go."
(Kimberley French / Focus Features)


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