Indie Focus: Val Kilmer sifts past and present in ‘Val’
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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This was another week with a lot happening on the scene of L.A.’s movie theaters. I reported on the beginning of construction for the new location of Vidiots, a longtime cornerstone of local cinema culture, in Eagle Rock. As well as reopening access to its library of more than 50,000 titles on DVD, Blu-ray and VHS, the new venue will have a 250-seat movie theater, certain to be a big draw when it opens in spring of 2022.
“Yes, you could say that in the age of streaming it’s counterintuitive to do something like this, but I would say that it’s obligatory to do something like this,” said Vidiots Foundation Executive Director Maggie Mackay, “because as convenient as streaming services are, they’re problematic only when they begin to obliterate other points of access to this entire art form. And when you have multiple points of access to an art form, you just invite so many more people in and you have such a better chance of encouraging new generations of people to fall in love with that art form, and then to support it for another hundred years.”
Ryan Faughnder reported that, as had been rumored, AMC Entertainment will be taking over the movie theaters at the Grove and the Americana malls, left vacant with the closure of the Pacific Theaters chain. AMC expects to have the theaters reopened in the coming weeks.
The soon-to-open Academy Museum also announced the initial programming for its in-house theater and it’s not kidding around. This is exciting stuff. It is a spectacular lineup, including Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” in 70mm, “The Wizard of Oz” with live musical accompaniment and retrospectives of Hayao Miyazaki, Haile Gerima, Jane Campion, Anna May Wong and Satyajit Ray. Sprinkled in among the programs are 35mm screenings of Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut” and Hype Williams’ “Belly.”
(And yes, I said last week that I was going to take this week off from the newsletter, but I couldn’t help myself. “Just when I thought I was out,” etc., etc.)
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Directed and edited by Leo Scott and Ting Poo, the documentary “Val” is drawn from hundreds of hours of footage that Val Kilmer has shot of himself throughout the course of his career. Startling in its vulnerability and earnestness, the film finds Kilmer grappling with health concerns while looking back at all he did and did not accomplish, The movie is in theaters now and will be streaming on Amazon Prime Video starting Aug. 6.
For The Times, Robert Abele wrote, “In its mix of trials both personal and professional, ‘Val’ is an unusually open trip through the rear-view mirror of showbiz: a cautionary saga about the intersection of imagination, ambition, behavior and celebrity. That its perspective comes from a place of necessary healing for its restlessly dreaming, ever-creating and always recording subject is what protects that inquisitiveness — even when occasionally facile — from being entirely self-serving. Attuned to what’s raw and heartfelt, ‘Val’ reveals a Kilmer who has managed to process his identity/career not as a be-careful-what-you-wish-for story so much as a be-grateful-for-what-one-has experience. That can be life after stardom, it seems, whether the camera’s on or off.”
I interviewed Kilmer via email and also spoke to his children, Jack and Mercedes Kilmer, as well as Scott and Poo. On the candid ambivalence her father exhibits toward his stardom and career, Mercedes Kilmer said, “What he perceives as his career was not always what Hollywood would perceive as his career. He’s been a thousand percent committed to making the best work possible. And I think it shows when as the Batman he’s like, I couldn’t act in this, I can’t move. That’s not fulfilling as an actor. It’s not challenging creatively. And he’s always, really at whatever costs to even his success, he’s always pursued what is the most creative and artistically challenging work.”
For the New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote, “More a self-portrait than a profile, ‘Val’ tells the story of a Hollywood career with a candor that stops short of revelation. The tone is personal but not quite intimate, producing in the viewer a warm, slightly wary feeling of companionship. … Conflicts with directors and castmates, and Kilmer’s tabloid-fueled reputation for ‘difficulty,’ are mentioned in passing, but ‘Val’ is neither a first-person confessional nor a journalistic investigation. It seems to arise, above all, from the desire of a sometimes reluctant celebrity and frequently underestimated artist to be understood. With a combination of wit, sincerity, self-awareness, and the narcissism that is both a requirement and a pitfall of his profession, Kilmer succeeds in explaining himself, or at least convincing us that we never really knew him before.”
For the Hollywood Reporter, Sheri Linden wrote, “The documentary embraces [Kilmer’s] many facets: movie star, character actor, cancer survivor, visual artist, writer, spiritual warrior, jokester, proud parent. To that list it adds another crucial accomplishment, the very reason the film exists: cinematographer. … Interweaving these sequences with newly unearthed vintage material, and wisely dispensing with talking-head commentary and interviews, [directors Scott and Poo] don’t aim to be comprehensive. They achieve something better: a film that’s agile and alive — fitting for a portrait of a man who is driven to make art, however he can.”
Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, based on the graphic novel “Sandcastle” by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters, ”Old” is the story of a family on an idyllic tropical vacation who find themselves on a beach that causes them all to age rapidly. The film has a talented cast, including Vicky Krieps, Gael García Bernal, Eliza Scanlen, Thomasin McKenzie, Alex Wolff, Abbey Lee, Rufus Sewell, Ken Leung and Embeth Davidtz. The film is in theaters now.
For the Times, Justin Chang wrote, “Watching ‘Old’ will take about four years off your life — or just under two hours, depending on which way you’re reading your trusty temporal-wormhole conversion chart. … This is a thriller written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, after all, which means there’s always an explanation or two or 200. It’s a wonder he isn’t still explaining it as the credits roll. … So why, in spite of all that, does ‘Old’ still inspire a spasm of retroactive goodwill? … [M]aybe it’s just that ‘Old,’ a story of collective bodily breakdown arriving in the midst of a pandemic, builds to an obvious but appreciably stirring note. It acknowledges the reality of just how quickly time passes and how cruelly loved ones can be ripped away. Maybe it’s true that life is too short for bad movies. Or maybe it’s too short not to take what pleasure in them you can.”
For Time, Stephanie Zacharek wrote, “If you can find only one good thing to say about M. Night Shyamalan’s movies — and his defenders can find many more — it’s that they’re usually wrapped around at least a germ of a poetic idea. That’s certainly true of ‘Old.’ … There’s so much you could do with that idea, just riffing on human fears of aging, or imagining what it would mean to miss out entirely on childhood. The possibilities are rich. But ‘Old’ is just dumb. … Shyamalan does — God knows why — manage to attract good actors, who seem eager to appear in his high-toned scares for smarties. To that end, ‘Old’ may leave you feeling energized, alert, grateful to be young and alive. Or it may just leave you feeling older than you were 100-odd minutes ago, time you’ll never get back. Youth is wasted on the young, and sometimes at the movies, too.”
For IGN Movies, Robert Daniels wrote, “It may not be his greatest work, but it is one that uses an intriguing premise to tackle profound ideas — ones that probably won’t easily fade away, even when you’re old and gray. … [T]here was never a moment where the slow-burn confrontation with mortality wasn’t completely enthralling. The message that we should remain young at heart and quickly move past petty squabbles and empty signifiers of status is a powerful pull. In that regard, ‘Old’ might be Shyamalan’s most humanist film. It’s less concerned with the puzzles themselves and more with the people running within the mazes. By the end, we’re not meant to care about the mystery or the clues that don’t align. Instead, the overriding thought is to live as though there’s no tomorrow.”
‘How It Ends’
Written and directed by Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones, “How It Ends” was conceived of and shot during the early height of pandemic lockdowns, giving the film’s apocalyptic storyline a disconcerting verisimilitude. With a meteor set to demolish Earth by the end of the day, Liza (Lister-Jones) and the projection of her younger self (Cailee Spaeny) wander the city visiting friends and getting in odd encounters as they tie up emotional loose ends. The extensive ensemble cast includes Helen Hunt, Olivia Wilde, Bradley Whitford, Lamorne Morris, Sharon Van Etten, Bobby Lee, Pauly Shore and many more. The film is playing at the Alamo Drafthouse for a few days and also is available on digital platforms.
For The Times, Michael Ordoña wrote, “Mostly, the film rides on the chemistry between Lister-Jones and Spaeny. Lister-Jones, with her cynicism and too-cool-for-schoolishness, convincingly portrays someone hobbled by the safety of low expectations. The very watchable Spaeny has the energy and openness Adult Liza killed off to survive but never comes off as exhausting. She’s not playing an attitude of youth; she’s playing Liza at a younger age but with knowledge of her older version’s missteps. … ‘How It Ends’ works both as an alternative to the usual, race-against-time or humanity-sucks apocalypse dramas, and as a personal exploration of settling affairs — and it’s a comedy.”
For the New York Times, Teo Bugbee wrote, “The film’s writers and directors, Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein, ensure that each reconciliation has an arc that builds from confrontation to explanation to resolution, and they are also careful to ensure that each scene stands on its own. The film plays as a series of perfectly enjoyable sketches strung together, an excuse for veteran actors to chew on playful dialogue. Liza attempts to tie up the loose ends of her life in one day, and if it seems like she succeeds rather economically, the writing, ever clever, builds in an explanation for the film’s breeziness. The characters shrug off the importance of their revelations — it’s only the end of the world.”
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