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Indie Focus: Terrors of the past return in ‘Candyman’

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

While the future of movie theaters remains uncertain, what is known is that there are a lot of movies coming out over the next few months, wherever audiences may ultimately find them. The Times published our fall movie preview this week and there is a lot to look forward to.

Josh Rottenberg wrote about “The Many Saints of Newark,” directed by Alan Taylor, and how the movie connects as a prequel to the beloved television series “The Sopranos.”

As writer David Chase told The Times, “A lot of well-meaning people said to me, ‘Aren’t you afraid you’re going to s— all over the show, this great thing you created?’ Of course, I said, ‘I hope not.’ But you feel like punching them in the face. What are you saying that to me for?”

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Josh also spoke to the director Denis Villeneuve and his co-writers Eric Roth and Jon Spaihts about “Dune,” the highly anticipated reimagining of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel, previously brought to the big screen by director David Lynch in 1984. As Villeneuve said of the adaptation, “The storyline is actually pretty simple but it’s more the density of the world and how rich and complex it is. The big challenge was to try not to crush the audience at the start with an insane amount of exposition. It took a long time to find the right equilibrium.”

Sonaiya Kelley spoke to Lashana Lynch about her role in Cary Joji Fukunaga’s upcoming adventure, “No Time To Die.” Lynch plays a new agent who takes over the 007 code number when James Bond (Daniel Craig) retires. On what it means for young Black women to see someone in a role previously defined by white men, Lynch said, “We [Black women] know how it feels to be mis- and under-represented and we know how it feels to yearn for someone, anyone in the world to speak our truth for us when we feel like we don’t have a voice. And I’m hoping that my career and my choice in roles and me just being me, authentically, is shining a light on our power.”

Amy Kaufman spoke to Jessica Chastain about her role as Tammy Faye Bakker in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” directed by Michael Showalter. On the character’s extreme look, the actor and producer said, “I was scared the people were going to make fun of me. And there’s going to be a lot to make fun of if I fail because it’s so out there. I’m swinging for the fences here.”

I spoke to writer-director Edgar Wright about his new “Last Night In Soho” and what it means to him that a film which is in part a re-creation of 1960s London turned out to be the final role for one of the era’s defining stars, Diana Rigg.

“The story of the film and the entire production has become both inextricably linked and achingly poignant to me; not least because Diana is no longer with us,” Wright said. “I feel somehow equally proud of the fact that she invited me to brunch with her after the shoot so we could talk about anything and everything. Her son-in-law told me the other day that she said of me, ‘He’s a nice boy.’ I can retire on that alone.”

And for a story scheduled to publish Sunday, Jen Yamato spoke to Awkwafina and Kumail Nanjiani about their appearances, respectively, in Destin Daniel Cretton’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and Chloé Zhao’s “Eternals” and what it was like making large-scale blockbuster movies with filmmakers who come from scrappy, independent backgrounds.

As Awkwafina said, “Working with a director who allows you to improv, if not encourages it, is perfect. And Simu has a comedy background so it was really fun to play off of him when we get into, like, a bickering zone where we go back and forth. I really like to make the cameramen laugh. When you’ve done a joke so many times, the cameraman is going to stop laughing. And that hurts my feelings!”

To which Nanjiani responded, “There were a couple of scenes where it felt like jumping out of a plane without a parachute. But I find I’m at my best when I start talking and I don’t know fully what’s going to happen. That can be really exciting. You get your two or three alts, but we’re doing 15, 20 takes sometimes. And it’s like, ‘Let’s see what happens this time.’”

Glenn Whipp ran through awards prospects of movies premiering in the upcoming Venice/Telluride/Toronto/New York festival corridor, including “Dune,” “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” Paul Schrader’s “The Card Counter,” Mike Mills’ “C’mon C’mon,” Reinaldo Marcus Green’s “King Richard,” Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog,” Pablo Larraín’s “Spencer” and Joel Coen’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth.”

Charlie Watts, drummer for the Rolling Stones, died this week at 80. “This is a newsletter dedicated to movies, why is that relevant here?,” you might ask. However, the Rolling Stones have had the good fortune/taste and/or outsized sense of ego/importance to collaborate with an astonishing lineup of filmmakers in documenting their extraordinary career. This includes Peter Whitehead (“Charlie Is My Darling,”), Jean-Luc Godard (“Sympathy for the Devil” a.k.a. “One Plus One”), David Maysles, Albert Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin (“Gimme Shelter”), Robert Frank (“C— Blues”), Hal Ashby (“Let’s Spend the Night Together”), and Martin Scorsese (“Shine a Light”). (All are available to stream, with a little online sleuthing.)

There are moments with Watts in “Gimme Shelter” that I find indelible, as he reacts to being shown footage of the Stones’ ill-fated Altamont concert in December 1969 that resulted in the killing of 18-year-old Meredith Hunter. Watts seems dismayed, confused and perhaps a little disgusted to have had any role in such a sequence of events, giving a very human response that largely saves the rest of the band from seeming like self-serving scoundrels. In another moment, having just listened to playback of a song in the studio, Watts holds the gaze of the camera for a disconcertingly long time. As much as his elegant and tasteful drumming, these moments returned to my mind this week after Watts’ death.

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‘Candyman’

Directed and co-written by Nia DaCosta, “Candyman” is a sequel to the 1992 film of the same name, with Jordan Peele as producer and co-writer. In the new film, artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his gallerist girlfriend Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris) move into the now-gentrified Chicago neighborhood that once included the Cabrini-Green housing project. After learning of the legend of the killer known as Candyman from an older local (Colman Domingo), Anthony begins to include the story in his art, unleashing the evil spirit once again. The movie is in general release in theaters.

Sonaiya Kelley interviewed DaCosta, Peele and Abdul-Mateen about the film. They spoke both about the things they liked from the original film and the things they were looking to change.

“The biggest thing for me was the shift in point of view,” said DaCosta. “The first film is very much from an outsider perspective, from a white point of view, and this movie is from the Black perspective and even more specifically from the perspective of Candyman.”

“I’ve always wanted to see Candyman through the eyes of Black characters,” said Peele. “This resulted in a story about how far we’ll go, and the horror we face in our need to reconcile the trauma of the past.”

Reviewing for Tribune News Service, Katie Walsh wrote, “DaCosta crafts an eerie cinematic world that is anchored by a deeply harrowing and sorrowful performance by Abdul-Mateen, who begins to occupy a space like that of Frankenstein’s monster, of this world and a monster within it, as he delves deeper and deeper into the Candyman legend. … Within this world, DaCosta weaves a tale of a mythical monster that is a product of racist violence, including police brutality. There’s power in a name, as seen in the protests of the Black Lives Matter movement. As ‘Candyman’ reminds us, say his name and incur the consequences, or, invoke his protection.”

For Vulture, Angelica Jade Bastién wrote, “This ‘Candyman’ misunderstands the allure of the original and has nothing meaningful to say about the contemporary ideas it observes with all the scrutiny of someone rushing through a Starbucks order on their way to work. ‘Candyman’ is the most disappointing film of the year so far, limning not only the artistic failures of the individuals who ushered it to life, but the artistic failures of an entire industry that seeks to commodify Blackness to embolden its bottom line.”

For the New York Times, Manohla Dargis wrote, “It’s easy to shock viewers with splatter but the old gut-and-run gets awfully boring awfully fast. Far better is the slow creep, the horror that teases and then threatens. … Throughout, [DaCosta] intersperses bits of shadow puppetry that work as a counterpoint to the main narrative, a reflexive device that emphasizes that ‘Candyman’ is also fundamentally about storytelling. We tell some fictions to understand ourselves, to exist; others we tell to turn other human beings into monsters, to destroy. In ‘Candyman,’ those who summon up this ghoul, thereby allowing him to tell his tale, first need to look at their reflections. When they do, they see innocence staring back at them — that, at least, is the story they tell themselves.”

For Polygon, Robert Daniels wrote, “DaCosta’s ‘Candyman,’ a sequel clearly filmed by a director with only a cursory knowledge of Chicago, a lesser understanding of the ways legends haunt us, and an unevenness for looping frights in with social commentary, is bold in its ambition. DaCosta tries to pay tribute to a classic horror film while upping the ante of that film’s social conversations, but she follows in the same disappointing steps of Peele’s other produced projects. She doesn’t have the voice required to approach these issues with depth.”

Director Nia DaCosta and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II on the set of "Candyman."
(Parrish Lewis/Universal Pictures)

‘No Man of God’

Directed by Amber Sealey from a screenplay by Kit Lesser, “No Man of God” is based on the true story and actual conversations between inexperienced FBI investigator Bill Hagmaier (Elijah Wood) and serial killer Ted Bundy (Luke Kirby) in the years after Bundy’s conviction prior to his 1989 execution. The film is in limited theatrical release and on VOD.

For Tribune News Service, Katie Walsh wrote, “‘No Man of God’ is impeccably and carefully directed by Sealey, and the craft on display is remarkable. … However, there’s a nagging feeling that persists during ‘No Man of God’ as one struggles to discern why this film exists or what it’s trying to say. While it explores this unique dynamic between these two men, a relationship that made Hagmaier a legend in criminal profiling, it doesn’t feel particularly illuminating about Bundy. What Hagmaier concludes is that Bundy committed these crimes because he wanted to, and that he should pay for his actions with his life. It’s almost frustrating that it doesn’t have more to impart than that, but perhaps that’s all there is.”

For IndieWire, Kate Erbland wrote, “While both Ted Bundy’s hideous story and the early days of the FBI profiling program make for well-trod onscreen material — from ‘Mindhunter’ to ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ to ‘Falling for a Killer’ and ‘The Ted Bundy Tapes,’ and those are just the recent titles — Kit Lesser’s screenplay opts to carve out a specific piece of the story and interrogate it on fresh terms. … By its fraught final moments, in which Ted finally bares all to a shellshocked Bill (Kirby has simply never been better than during this horrific final monologue), Sealey brings the attention back to where it belongs: on an electric duo, bonded by terrible, impenetrable truths that would make any ‘normal’ person shudder.”

For the A.V. Club, Mike D’Angelo wrote, “Is it fair to fault a movie that depicts real-world events for being less compelling than fictional works that were in part inspired by those (or at least similar) events? Maybe not, but it’s also hard to ignore just how familiar ‘No Man Of God’ feels at virtually every moment.”

Two men face a wall in "No Man of God."
Elijah Wood, left, and Luke Kirby in “No Man of God.”
(RLJE Films/TNS)

‘Together’

Directed by Stephen Daldry from a script by Dennis Kelly, “Together” is a COVID-era curio, an attempt to make sense of all that people have gone through. Filmed over 10 days, the story is about a couple, known only as “She” and “He,” played by Sharon Horgan and James McAvoy, who reevaluate their relationship while dealing with the stresses of lockdown. The film is in limited theatrical release.

For the Hollywood Reporter, Angie Han wrote, “Daldry’s direction and Kelly’s script allow plenty of room for complicated or unresolved feelings, and in moments when the couple pause to take stock of the trauma they’ve endured — as when she stands shellshocked over news about her ailing mother while he watches helplessly from a distance, unable to offer even the paltry comfort of a hug — ‘Together’ can be downright bruising. Too often, though, it’s a film that’s hard to watch not because it’s so raw or so real, but because its characters are so, well, annoying. … Neither seems especially pleasant to spend time with alone, and together they relish in airing their complaints or analyzing their sex life for a captive audience — in this case, us, the viewers. ‘Together’ doesn’t so much break the fourth wall as yank us in through it, shove a cup of tea in our hands, and then demand that we nod and smile while its central duo yammer at us for an hour and a half.”

For The Wrap, Robert Abele wrote, “Where the details of enforced isolation as they relate to bickering urbanites may generate some dramatic interest, what’s invariably triggered throughout Dennis Kelly’s overtly theatrical screenplay is the grim, wearying belief that some disasters don’t fit so easily into the confines of a relationship comedy. … Though well-meaning in its mining of relationship honesty under enormous stress, ‘Together’ is less a problem of ‘too soon’ than one of ‘not enough.’”

For the Washington Post, Ann Hornaday wrote, “Originally conceived as a stage play, ‘Together’ often plays like a piece of theater captured on camera, with Horgan and McAvoy delivering their venomous, sometimes genuinely shattering soliloquies in long, uninterrupted takes. Daldry judiciously cuts away now and then, to capture [their son] Artie’s sadness and isolation, or to observe this bickering couple from a more conventional distance; these offer graceful moments of respite from what would otherwise be a monotonous exercise in displaced anger and mutual contempt. … As an artifact of the times in which it was made — in one location over the course of 10 days in a London house — ‘Together’ isn’t particularly weighty, but it possesses undeniable resonance.”

Sharon Horgan (left) and James McAvoy (right) star in Stephen Daldry's 'Together,' a Bleecker Street release.
(Peter Mountain / Bleecker Street)


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