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‘Earth Mama’ sensitively evokes issues of race, class and motherhood

A pregnant woman gets a shoulder massage from a pregnant friend in her living room.
Tia Nomore, left, and Doechii in the movie “Earth Mama.”
(Gabriel Saravia / A24 Films)
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Hello! I’m Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

Today, actors are heading to the picket lines alongside members of the WGA for the first time in more than 60 years — Ronald Reagan was the head of SAG at the time — in a turn of events poised to dramatically shake up the entertainment industry. Current SAG leader Fran Drescher gave an impassioned speech declaring the strike. As she said, “At some point, the jig is up. You cannot keep being dwindled and marginalized and disrespected and dishonored. The entire business model has been changed by streaming, digital, AI. This is a moment of history that is a moment of truth.”

Outfest highlights L.A.’s LGBTQIA+ film festival Outfest is now underway, even if the SAG-AFTRA strike means its red carpets will be a little thin. But the lineup of films is extremely powerful this year, with lots for audiences to enjoy, including buzzy titles that have premiered at other fests such as Sundance and SXSW.

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Lily Gladstone is already garnering attention for her performance in Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” but is also a galvanizing force in the Outfest title “Fancy Dance” as an Indigenous woman trying to do right by her niece.

The outrageous comedy “Bottoms,” starring Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri, will be in theaters in August, giving Outfest audiences an early look. Films such as “Passages,” “Problemista,” “Mutt,” “Rotting in the Sun,” “It’s Only Life After All,” “My Animal” and “Cora Bora” should all prove to be highlights of the program as well.

Saturday night will see the official U.S. premiere of “The People’s Joker,” writer-director-star Vera Drew’s bold and satirical reimagining of the universe of Batman and D.C. Comics as a queer narrative of identity.

The festival will wrap July 23 with the documentary “Chasing Chasing Amy,” in which filmmaker Sav Rodgers explores his own identity through Kevin Smith’s 1997 rom-com “Chasing Amy.” The film’s interviews with Smith, original star Joey Lauren Adams and actor and writer Guinevere Turner are remarkably revealing and candid, lending a disarming power.

Array summer screenings The free summer screening series at Array’s Amanda Cinema is inspired by the Jean-Michel Basquiat painting “Hollywood Africans in Front of the Chinese Theater With Footprints of Movie Stars.” Drawing from Basquiat’s extensive collection of VHS tapes, the series will explore how cinema influenced Basquiat’s sense of storytelling. His sister Lisane Basquiat will be in attendance this Saturday for conversations around screenings of Gordon Parks’ 1971 “Shaft,” starring Richard Roundtree, and Martin Brest’s comedy “Beverly Hills Cop,” starring Eddie Murphy.

On Aug. 5, there will be screenings of George Romero’s 1968 original “Night of the Living Dead” and John Sayles’ 1984 “Brother From Another Planet.” There will also be pop-up events and a self-portrait studio as part of the festivities.

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Messy message films at UCLA The UCLA Film and Television Archive is launching a series titled “Telegrams From the Edge: The Message Picture in the Age of Noir” that explores what these movies explicitly had to say about their times. The series opens Friday with Samuel Fuller’s 1963 “Shock Corridor,” a movie that will never lose its pulpy, disorienting edge. Other films in the series include Robert Wise’s 1951 “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” William Wellman’s 1950 “The Next Voice You Hear,” Joseph Losey’s 1950 “The Lawless,” Wise’s 1958 “I Want to Live!” and Elmer Clifton and Ida Lupino’s 1949 “Not Wanted.”

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‘Earth Mama’

Written and directed by Olympic athlete turned filmmaker Savanah Leaf, “Earth Mama” is a tender, humanist portrait of motherhood, race and class. As Gia (Tia Nomore) hopes to regain custody of two children in foster care, she struggles to get through another pregnancy. The film’s evocative depiction of life in the Bay Area is captured by acclaimed cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes. The film is in theaters now.

For The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “If the filmmaking feels poetic and subdued, it’s the opposite of coy. Leaf is confident enough to let her images, as much as her written dialogue, do much of the narrative lifting. … At its simplest, this is a story about how Gia learns to trust again, to reject the myth of self-sufficiency. She learns anew just how closely bound she is to the other Black women around her: Miss Carmen, Trina, her friend Mel (a quietly unyielding Keta Price) and her classmates, some of whom relate their own affecting accounts of struggle and resilience. These are ordinary stories, Leaf humbly suggests, even as she tells them with extraordinary depth of feeling.”

In a forthcoming Times interview, Jen Yamato spoke to Leaf and Nomore, a rapper who had no previous acting experience. Nomore said she was not looking to become an actor before the film’s casting directors videotaped her in a park. “I was just barely holding it together, being a stay-at-home mom,” she explained. “But I also didn’t think that they were going to choose me. I thought, either they are just using me for research or Savanah wants to be my friend in real life. Whatever it was, I was going with it.”

Two women recline on a couch
“Earth Mama” director Savanah Leaf, right, and star Tia Nomore.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

‘Afire’

Christian Petzold has become one of the most celebrated contemporary German filmmakers with his history-minded explorations in films such as “Barbara” and “Transit.” Which makes his contemporary-set seaside relationship story “Afire” seem all the more surprising. Leon (Thomas Schubert), a novelist trying to finish a new book, goes with his friend Felix to a seaside house hoping to unwind. There they encounter Nadja (Paula Beer), whose presence unnerves the self-obsessed Leon. They film is in theaters now.

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For The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “Throughout this movie, an absorbing, barbed and frequently funny evisceration of artistic ego, Petzold practices a deft and disarming sleight of hand, using key details to keep the viewer off balance and deliver a stinging rebuke to Leon’s myopia. … It’s a measure of this movie’s compassion, rather than its cruelty, that Nadja — played with exquisite delicacy and pinpoint comic timing by Beer, Petzold’s frequent collaborator of late — is on hand to yank him back out. She doesn’t wipe that scowl off Leon’s face, though she does suggest that it might be more productively directed inward.”

Tim Grierson spoke to Petzold about the film, which finds the filmmaker working in a more comedic mode than on his previous films. It wasn’t until a table read with his cast that he realized how funny the movie could be.

He said, “It has something to do with my education at the Berlin film school. The beginning of the ’90s, when I was a student there, we were surrounded by German cinema which is based on comedy — really bad comedy, I must say. ... So our reaction was, we’ll make very hard movies, very melodramatic movies. But my whole life, I was a fanatic for musicals and comedies. I love Jacques Demy, ‘Singin’ in the Rain,’ all the Howard Hawks movies. I like how Hawks’ movies, the dialogues are like fights — they’re boxing. You learn so many things about space, about timing, about rhythm.”

A man with a backpack speaks to a woman on a bicycle by the seaside
Thomas Schubert and Paula Beer in “Afire.”
(Christian Schulz / Janusfilms)

‘Final Cut’

A remake of the 2017 Japanese film “One Cut of the Dead,” Michel Hazanavicius’ “Final Cut” is an unexpected swerve into zom-com storytelling from the Oscar-winning filmmaker behind “The Artist.” In it, members of a low-rent movie production, including its director (Romain Duris) and makeup head (Bérénice Bejo), find themselves beset by actual zombies. The film is in theaters now.

For The Times, Amy Nicholson wrote, “Hazanavicius has made a movie that tests our ideas of creative genius. In this opening, he yanks us one direction — genius, this is not — and by the end, he’s prodded us to wonder if it is. That audience manipulation is its own act of brilliance. … That’s when it clicks that this trashy, goofy, giddy, sloppy gore-fest isn’t so different from ‘The Artist’ after all. They both endear us to the behind-the-scenes struggles of, well, the artist, or in this case, these floundering and far-less-talented artistes.”

Three people scream in terror.
Romain Duris, Bérénice Bejo and Simone Hazanavicius in “Final Cut.”
(Kino Lorber)
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