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Indie Focus: Zack Snyder comes back to ‘Justice League’

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

The Academy Awards nominations were announced on Monday, finally pushing this very odd and seemingly infinitely extended awards season into its next phase. And while most of the films are easily accessible to watch from home, it’s a patchwork of subscription streaming services and VOD, so this handy guide by Christi Carras will let you know which titles are available where.

Producers from all eight of the best picture nominees spoke to The Times for a snapshot survey that covers what the Oscars mean in a year like this. As Dan Janvey, a producer on “Nomadland,” said of what connects this year’s nominees, “There’s something special about what’s in their cinematic DNA that connects to where we find ourselves as a people.”

Among the newly minted acting nominees, Steven Yeun and Yuh-Jung Youn from “Minari” talked to Amy Kaufman; Riz Ahmed spoke to me about “Sound of Metal”; and Andra Day talked to Sonaiya Kelley about “The United States vs. Billie Holliday.”

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There were a lot of firsts within the announcements — including the first Asian-American for lead actor, first Muslim in lead actor and first all-Black producing team for a Best Picture nominee — which tends to raise more questions than answers. Mary McNamara wrote about why she has reservations about celebrating even when it seems progress is being made by the Academy: “It’s just that every historic ‘first’ reminds us of the long history of ‘none.’”

Movie theaters opened in Los Angeles this week for the first time in over a year. Ryan Faughnder took a look at what that means for exhibitors and distributors after a year of audiences getting used to being catered to at home and a push for shortened windows between theatrical and streaming releases.

“The world has changed,” said Mark Zoradi, chief executive of the Cinemark chain. “Every studio is going to do it a little bit differently. … The new world order will probably be somewhere in that no-less-than-30 to 45-day range, and then there will be some exceptions.”

This week on “The Envelope” podcast, I spoke to Sacha Baron Cohen, who earned two Oscar nominations this week, one for supporting actor in “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and the other for co-writing “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.”

Over the last few years the once press-reluctant Cohen has emerged more into the public eye, representing his projects and advocating for a reevaluation of the practices of social media companies.

As Cohen said during our conversation, “I suppose to me it’s all connected — ‘Chicago 7,’ ‘Borat’ and my advocacy — there is this common message across all three, which is the importance of truth and the danger of lies.”

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‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’

Few films arrive with the sort of freighted backstory of “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.” When the filmmaker stepped away from the film before it was finished due to a family tragedy, writer-director Joss Whedon came in to complete the movie and seemingly no one ended up happy with the results. So now, after an extended outcry from a dedicated group of fans, Snyder has returned to see through his original vision. If it needs any further explanation, the film is about a team of superheroes, including Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman (played by Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa, respectively), who gather to fight something or other. The film is streaming on HBO Max.

For The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “If this ‘Justice League’ is a fuller, more stylish film than its butchered predecessor, I’m reluctant to call it a richer or deeper one. What Snyder has contrived here feels less like a vital reenergization of the form than a ponderous guided tour through a museum’s worth of familiar superhero-movie tropes and conventions: Look at this, look at that, try not to look at your watch. Like the Flash himself, Snyder wants to slow time to a crawl, to deconstruct every gesture, to make his obsessions your own. He wants the movie to go on forever. Mission accomplished.”

For Vulture, Bilge Ebiri wrote, “It’s not hard to look at this latest cut, the product of $70 million worth of VFX, reedits, and reshoots, and sense a newfound power in its vision of sacrifice and tragedy, in which parents toil to save their children, children toil to save their parents, where the dead rise, and where shattered pasts are rewritten and redeemed. The Snyder Cut has its share of problems — when you get the best of Snyder, you also get the worst — but it’s an undeniably passionate and moving work. It earns its self-importance.”

For Slate, Karen Han wrote, “Any film that takes great risks will be more interesting, even if it fails, than a film that takes no risks and succeeds at mediocrity, and, as Snyder proves, a movie with a clear director’s touch is more compelling than a movie that’s been made by committee. Snyder’s ‘Justice League’ is more, more, more in a way that most films wouldn’t dare, and, after a year of no theaters at all, a movie that makes me long to return to a multiplex — to see more movies that commit so completely to a vision that it’s impossible not to be swept away.”

For Vanity Fair, Richard Lawson wrote, “Watching Snyder’s intermittently rewarding epic — if nothing else a spectacle of completed vision — stirred up surprising emotions. Not about what happens to the people (and aliens) in the film, but about what happened to its maker, and to the course of human events while ‘Justice League’ 2.0 wrestled its way into being. There is a bittersweet suggestion made by this turgid, solemnly weighted film. … Of course, this is just a superhero movie, remounted mostly out of corporate hunger. But, nevertheless, there is Snyder’s pained, finally realized opus, perhaps indicating with its bizarre existence that not everything is gone for good, even if it comes back haunted, or a little dinged up by the tumble of time. Maybe, just maybe, we too can revive some of our mad pursuits, recut the shape of our lives into what we were once so determined they would be. All we’d need is millions of dollars of our own, and an army of devotees eager to take up the cause of our thwarted dreams.”

Ben Affleck as Batman standing with Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman while Zack Snyder directs
Ben Affleck, left, Gal Gadot and Zack Snyder on the set of “Justice League.”
(Clay Enos / HBO Max)

‘The Courier’

Directed by Dominic Cooke from a screenplay by Tom O’Connor, “The Courier” is based on true events surrounding Greville Wynne, a British businessman turned unlikely spy who is eventually captured by the KGB in the early 1960s. The cast includes Benedict Cumberbatch as Wynne, Merab Ninidze as his Soviet contact, Jessie Buckley as Wynne’s wife and Rachel Brosnahan as a CIA agent. The film is playing now in general release.

For The Times, Katie Walsh wrote, “The drab gray color scheme of ‘The Courier’ might be genre-appropriate, but it’s profoundly depressing to look at, as people and buildings and streets all blend into one muddy hue. The aesthetic sharpens into something stark and hellish as the story takes a turn into the dehumanizing realities of the Soviet regime. It’s in these last moments of ‘The Courier’ that things finally snap into place, crystallizing the message that individuals might grasp some power within the complicated machinery of politics.”

Reviewing for rogerebert.com, Odie Henderson wrote, “Though there’s nothing new or transformative here, ‘The Courier’ stays afloat due to the acting by Buckley, Cumberbatch, and Ninidze. … I was a bit surprised that ‘The Courier’ worked for me as well as it did, and I must give some credit to Sean Bobbitt’s moody cinematography and Abel Korzeniowski’s engaging score. Their work gave the illusion that this film could have been made in the timeframe it is set. That sealed the deal for me.”

For the Washington Post, Ann Hornaday wrote, “‘The Courier’ makes a smart, stylish stand for the kind of old-fashioned period spy thriller that is increasingly being turned into bingeable series for streaming services. Its modesty and carefully managed ambitions define its strong suit at a time when such films are scarcer every day. ‘The Courier’ isn’t a great movie, but it’s a good one. And right now, that’s enough.”

Two men talk in the shadows outside a London Underground station in the movie "The Courier."
Merab Ninidze, left, and Benedict Cumberbatch in the movie “The Courier.”
(Liam Daniel / Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions)

‘The Fever’

Brazilian documentarian Maya Da-Rin makes her fiction feature debut with “The Fever.” In the film, a man named Justino (Regis Myrupu) has been living with his daughter in a city away from their native home in the Amazon rainforest and he begins to suffer from a mysterious ailment. The film is playing now at virtual cinemas.

For The Times, Carlos Aguilar wrote that the film “elevates slice-of-life passages with pointed commentary about the uprooting and marginalization of Indigenous populations under the façade of collective progress. … Still the film doesn’t entirely romanticize the return to the ancestral land and evinces how the patriarchal standards still upheld there wouldn’t allow Justino’s daughter Vanessa (Rosa Peixoto), a nurse headed for med school, to pursue an education. Da-Rin achieves a balanced examination that we seldom see in Latin American cinema. Subtly sensorial more than conventionally narrative, ‘The Fever’ inhabits an ethereal plane that centers Indigenous beliefs and cultural practices not as primitive but valid modes of engagement.”

For the New York Times, Devika Girish wrote, “‘The Fever’ colors in the experiences of Brazil’s Indigenous community through the casual racism Justino and Vanessa face at work, including taunts about the shapes of their eyes and ignorance about the diversity of Native languages. The characters are stoic in public, but at home, Justino responds with his own judgments. … By showing us the world through Justino’s searching gaze, Da-Rin gives us an elusive but powerful sense of the limits of our own vision.”

For Cinema Scope, Beatrice Loayza wrote, “Da-Rin’s father-and-daughter pair might on first glance seem too precious, too good for this world in their genuine concern for one another, and yet ‘The Fever’s’ emotional beats never feel contrived. Instead, Da-Rin creates tension not as a simplistic pitting of the old against the new, so to speak, but as a constant generational negotiation and series of concessions motivated by familial love. ‘The Fever’ is essential cinema, demanding empathy and understanding without pity or didacticism, and spotlighting indigenous people with the attention to cultural specifics that few films bother elaborating.”

A man in an orange safety vest in the movie "The Fever," directed by Maya Da-Rin.
Regis Myrupu in the movie “The Fever,” directed by Maya Da-Rin.
(KimStim)


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