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Indie Focus: Learning alongside ‘The Disciple’

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

This year’s virtual TCM Classic Film Festival is underway, taking place on multiple platforms with movies and talks happening both on the Turner Classic Movies cable channel and the HBO Max streaming platform. The selections on HBO Max will be available throughout May. I, for one, am looking forward to watching Patricia Birch’s “Grease 2,” the documentary “Nichols and May – Take Two” and Chantal Akerman’s “News From Home” and “La Chambre.”

Available virtually via Film Forum (and playing in L.A. at the Laemmle NoHo) is a new restoration of Melvin Van Peebles’ 1968 debut feature “The Story of a Three Day Pass,” starring Harry Baird and Nicole Berger in the tale of a Black American G.I. on leave in Paris. Taking stylistic cues from the French New Wave, the film introduces Van Pebbles’ distinct voice and vision, which would develop into such future projects as “Watermelon Man” and “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.”

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I had a chance to speak to Steven Soderbergh this week about the new season of the Starz television series “The Girlfriend Experience,” on which he is an executive producer, and of course I asked him about his experience producing the recent Oscars telecast.

Of the show, and any criticism of it, Soderbergh said, “You have to understand this show was very much viewed by us and by the academy as an opportunity to try some really different stuff. And the understanding was always, there are going to be some things that work and some things that don’t, things that people like, things that people don’t. That’s the point.”

This week saw the launch of The Times’ new daily podcast “The Times,” hosted by Gustavo Arellano. One episode featured reporters Stacy Perman and Josh Rottenberg talking about the extensive reporting they have done regarding the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. and the Golden Globes.

This week on “The Envelope” podcast, Yvonne Villarreal spoke to Kate Winslet about her role in the new HBO series “Mare of Easttown,” as well as the distinctions between working in television and film.

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‘The Disciple’

Directed by Chaitanya Tamhane and executive produced by Alfonso Cuarón, “The Disciple” won the screenplay prize at last year’s Venice Film Festival. In the film, Aditya Modak stars as a young man in India studying to become a classical vocalist. The movie is streaming now on Netflix.

For The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “This thoughtful, multilayered and vividly engrossing movie, a portrait of the artist as a young Mumbai musician, is also a remarkably clear-eyed record of personal frustration, bitterness and failure. ‘The Disciple’ may strike a blow for art in a world dominated by industry, but it also forgoes the easy superiority and self-congratulation that can ensnare many artists (and, to be sure, more than a few critics).”

Justin also noted how, as with such other recent international titles as “Rocks” and “A Sun,” the movie somewhat unceremoniously appeared on Netflix with little fanfare or advance notice, adding, “I don’t mean to belabor my indignation; I generally review movies, not release strategies. But Netflix’s shoddy treatment of ‘The Disciple’ — and its dispiriting history of marginalizing titles from abroad that are invariably marginalized to begin with — can’t really be divorced from what the movie is about: the vulnerability of so much great art and the degree to which art survives, sometimes just barely, through the devotion of a passionate few.”

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For Film Companion, Anupama Chopra wrote, “‘The Disciple’ is a film about artistic rigour told with great formal rigour. … You don’t need to know Hindustani classical music to appreciate ‘The Disciple’ — I don’t. But you do need to submit to Chaitanya’s challenging poetry — the immersive sound design, the studied frames and Aditya Modak’s melancholic performance. Aditya, a musician who makes his acting debut as Sharad, transforms externally and internally, as we watch. It’s astounding.”

For the New Yorker, Richard Brody wrote, “The movie’s majestic paradox is that Tamhane’s attention to the young protagonist’s story (thinned by a few dramatic shortcuts) is matched — indeed, bested — in his inspired, rapturous portrayal of the two older artists and their creative inspiration and spiritual authority. … Even more than a drama, ‘The Disciple’ offers a probing — and ultimately scathing — vision of artistic psychology and aesthetic philosophy, of the self-cultivation and formation of artists, while offering an ecstatic view of art itself. I’ve long believed that music is the closest art to cinema, and that the filming of musical performance, in a way that transcends mere audiovisual recording, is a uniquely severe touchstone of directorial artistry.”

Aditya Modak in a scene from "The Disciple."
Aditya Modak in a scene from “The Disciple.”
(Netflix)

‘Wrath of Man’

Directed and co-written by Guy Ritchie, “Wrath of Man” is a remake of the 2004 French film “Le Convoyeur” (“Cash Truck”) and reunites the director with actor Jason Statham for the first time in 16 years. The two bring out the best in each other as Statham plays a suitably taciturn and brutally capable armored truck driver called H. The film is in general release where theaters are open.

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For the Tribune News Service, Katie Walsh celebrated the film’s “brawny, muscular élan,” while also noting, “Statham has cornered the market on performances that are stoic and lethal, and that’s all Ritchie asks of him in ‘Wrath of Man,’ surrounding him with a murderers’ row of beguiling character actors, allowing Statham to be the chillingly still eye of the storm. But Ritchie also allows the actor to mature a bit, to grow from a cocky young buck into a man carrying an unspoken burden that motivates his every move.”

For the New York Times, Glenn Kenny wrote, “As Kirk Douglas in ‘The Fury’ and Liam Neeson in ‘Taken’ have shown, there are certain men with whose family one ought not to mess with. Here Statham is one of them. The gravity of H’s true mission accounts for the movie’s tone. Ritchie reveals crucial story points with clever time-juggling editing, and keeps up the tension well into the movie’s climax, which delivers exactly what the viewer will have come to hope for.”

For rogerebert.com, Matt Zoller Seitz wrote, “The completeness and sureness of the movie’s aesthetic is a joy to behold, even when the images capture human beings doing savage things. You don’t really root for anyone in this film. They are criminals engaged in contests of will. But the film is not a value-neutral exercise. There is an undertone of lament to a lot of the violent action. Every character made their bed and must lie it. More often than not, it’s a deathbed.”

Two men in an armored car
Jason Statham stars as H and Josh Hartnett stars as Boy Sweat Dave in director Guy Ritchie’s “Wrath of Man.”
(Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

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‘The Boy From Medellín’

Directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Matthew Heineman, “The Boy From Medellín” is a portrait of Colombian reggaeton superstar J Balvin filmed over a week in late 2019 as the musician prepares for a triumphant hometown performance and navigates how to use his voice and power to address growing political and social unrest. The film is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

For The Times, Robert Abele wrote, “The concert portion is the usual you-are-there backstage/onstage footage, but the manner in which Balvin solves his crisis of conscience makes for a satisfying resolution. Ego-stroking bio docs being a cottage industry these days, Balvin is one of the more disarmingly open figures to get this kind of treatment. But it’s also nice that ‘The Boy From Medellín’ makes the most of its allotted time with a busy phenomenon to at least dabble in the ins and outs of an artist contemplating his place in the world.”

For the New York Times, Beatrice Loayza wrote, “Similar recent mythmaking projects like Beyoncé’s ‘Homecoming’ and Taylor Swift’s ‘Miss Americana’ have generated their own publicity by giving access to curated versions of the personal lives of musicians, which makes them seem real and relatable. In ‘The Boy from Medellín,’ this curation is obvious. … In ‘getting political,’ Balvin risks alienating some fans, but he stands to win some as well — the viewers of this documentary, for instance.”

For the Playlist, Monica Castillo wrote, “The documentary’s curious look into the world of celebrity takes in all of its thorniness and its perks in equal stride. In the middle of it all is a sensitive guy who’s forced to grow a little in the face of a national tragedy. … There’s a lot more to talk about in regards to J.Balvin than ‘The Boy from Medellín’ goes into but the documentary’s overall experience is still an enjoyable one that’s full of catchy music, candid moments with the guarded performer and one seriously fun show at the end of it all.”

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A man and woman on a couch
The singer J Balvin lies next to girlfriend Valentina Ferrer in “The Boy From Medellín.”
(Amazon Studios)


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