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LALIFF expands across the city, plus more of the week’s best films

Three people ride a tilt-a-whirl.
“In the Summers,” a movie directed by Alessandra Lacorazza, won two prizes at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival and will open the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival.
(LALIFF)
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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.

Matt Brennan and Joshua Rothkopf were still at the Cannes Film Festival this week and they kept themselves very busy.

Joshua wrote two overview pieces, starting with a look at how movies of the festival were grappling with depictions of reality, including Andrea Arnold’s “Bird,” Paul Schrader’s “Oh, Canada,” Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Kinds of Kindness” and Rungano Nyoni’s “On Becoming a Guinea Fowl.” The other had to do with the prevalence of body-horror stories, including Ali Abbasi’s “The Apprentice,” Coralie Fargeat’s “The Substance” and David Cronenberg’s “The Shrouds.”

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Matt took a closer look at “The Apprentice,” which stars Sebastian Stan as a younger Donald Trump, with Jeremy Strong playing his early mentor Roy Cohn. The film has already raised threats of legal action from the Trump camp for its depictions of plastic surgeries and the rape of his first wife, Ivana, played by Maria Bakalova.

“This is really not a movie about Donald Trump,” Abbasi said during the film’s festival press conference. “This is a movie about a system and the way the system works, and the way the system is built and the way the power runs through the system.”

Joshua and Matt also joined up for a conversation about Kevin Costner’s epic western, “Horizon: An American Saga — Chapter 1,” touted as the first of four films. They debated whether it plays like a movie or more like a television show. As Joshua put it, “If ‘Horizon’ is TV, what kind of TV is it? I can’t help but be reminded of James Poniewozik’s recent essay for the New York Times about what he called Mid TV, or ‘prestige TV that you can fold laundry to.’ It’s, you know, just fine.”

Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival

The 23rd Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival will run May 29–June 2 at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood and, for the first time, also at downtown’s Regal LA Live, spotlighting projects from 22 countries.

The festival opens with the family drama “In the Summers,” directed by Alessandra Lacorazza, which won both the grand jury prize and the directing award when it premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. The film still has not announced a U.S. distribution deal, so this may be the only chance to see it in a local theater for the near future.

The festival will close with the world premiere of “Grassland,” directed by William Bermudez and Sam Friedman. The film tells the story of a single mother (Mia Maestro) who finds her illegal marijuana business jeopardized when her son (Ravi Cabot-Conyers) makes friends with their new neighbors.

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Screening as part of the festival’s section dedicated to episodic work is Las Amazonas de Yaxunah,” about a group of Mayan women in the Yucatan jungle of Mexico who start playing baseball. Star Yalitza Aparicio, best known for her Academy Award-nominated role in “Roma,” is scheduled to be present for the screening on June 2.

A boy examines the leaves of a plant.
Ravi Cabot-Conyers in the movie “Grassland,” playing as part of the 2024 Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival.
(Grassland Film)

This is the first edition of LALIFF since Axel Caballero took over last year as CEO of the Latino Film Institute, the larger organization behind the festival. In a conversation this week, Caballero pointed out how LALIFF acts as a hub for the many programs overseen by the LFI, including their Youth Cinema Project, which puts the tools of filmmaking in the hands of schoolchildren.

“It’s a platform that really allows for the convergence of all these elements coming together to create a really powerful moment,” said Caballero of LALIFF. “There’s a reflection of the incredible content, the incredible talent, the work and the leadership of our community in order to advance and to educate where we are.”

Speaking to Angie Orellana Hernandez for De Los, Erika Sabel Flores, vice president of programs and innovations at the LFI, said that the festival is meant to “highlight the whole breadth of the Latino experience. We understand that better than anyone — that being Latino doesn’t mean that we all have the same thing to say or that we have the same perspective.”

This idea was echoed by Caballero when he said, “There is not just one type of Latino film that will connect with one type of audience. And that’s the richness that we show as a community. There are all sorts of universal stories that are happening here that are driving people into theaters.”

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Richard Linklater’s ‘Hit Man’

A woman and a man flirt.
Adria Arjona and Glen Powell in Richard Linklater’s movie “Hit Man.”
(Netflix)

One of the things that makes Richard Linklater a continually fascinating filmmaker is his unpredictability. You never quite know what he is going to do from film to film. Take for example, his new “Hit Man,” a breezy caper/rom-com/treatise on personal identity. The film is in theaters this week in limited release and will begin streaming on Netflix on June 7.

Co-written by Linklater with star Glen Powell, the film tells the “somewhat true story” of a real person named Gary Johnson. In the film, Johnson (Powell) works part time for the New Orleans Police Department helping to set up undercover sting operations. As Gary gets swept up in the role-play the job requires, he meets Madison (Adria Arjona), and he dissuades her from trying to hire someone to murder her husband. As the two of them grow closer, her husband does in fact turn up dead. And things only get more complicated from there.

The film is a good time in a theater. Throughout its festival run there were reports of audiences bursting into applause at the end of one particular showstopper of a scene between Powell and Arjona. See it with a crowd if you can.

Back during the Sundance Film Festival, Linklater and Powell sat down with Matt Brennan for an extended Times Talks interview, and also spoke to Mark Potts to answer a few “Very Important Questions.”

Other points of interest

Celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday at the movies

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Three musicians sing together.
Van Morrison, left, Bob Dylan and the Band’s Robbie Robertson sing “I Shall Be Released,” the finale of director Martin Scorsese’s concert film, “The Last Waltz.”
(United Artists / Getty Images)

The American Cinematheque will celebrate Bob Dylan’s 83rd birthday tonight with a double bill of Larry Charles’ “Masked and Anonymous” and Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Waltz” at the Aero Theatre. The evening will be introduced by Luke Wilson, who appears in “Masked and Anonymous.”

Screening in 35mm, “Masked and Anonymous” confounded everyone when it first came out in 2003, a political satire co-written by Charles and Dylan and starring Dylan himself as a faded musician known as Jack Fate.

Besides its offbeat sense of humor and unexpectedly prescient political outlook, the film also features a handful of sharp live performances from Dylan and his then-current touring band. I previously wrote about the film last year, talking to Ian Grant and Evan Laffer of the “Jokermen” podcast.

“What it has going for it is the same things that so much of Dylan’s music and his songs have going for them,” said Laffer. “In his later work, it’s restlessly continuing to add things and play around with ideas and genres. It is absolutely not a museum piece.”

“The Last Waltz,” released in 1978, is often heralded as one of the greatest concert films of all time, capturing the 1976 Thanksgiving farewell concert in San Francisco by the Band along with special guests Joni Mitchell, Neil Diamond, Neil Young, Muddy Waters and many others, including the group’s frequent collaborator, Bob Dylan.

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Having previously worked as an editor on concert films such as “Woodstock” and “Elvis on Tour,” Scorsese abandoned the handheld approach that had been typical at the time for a visual style that was more structured and composed, lending a stately elegance to the performances. The film conveys the interplay of personalities happening onstage, something that recent fiction pieces like the Tony-nominated play “Stereophonic” or the Emmy-nominated series “Daisy Jones & the Six” have also striven to capture.

In a 1978 review of the film, Times music critic Robert Hilburn wrote, “I’ve seen 2,000 concerts over the past 10 years, many of them from so close to the stage that you could hear the musicians chat with each other. ‘Last Waltz’ takes us dramatically closer, making you aware of the energy and intensity that even a relatively gentle performer like Joni Mitchell puts into communicating her music. Scorsese also captures the shades of urgency, joy and physical ordeal of musicians in the spotlight. … You feel once again the liberation and magic that these and kindred musicians brought to a generation. It’s a grand, rousing last hurrah.”

In a 1978 interview with Jeremy James for The Times, Scorsese described how the first moment Dylan is on camera was caught by accident.

“The camera had tilted up,” Scorsese said. “And when it tilted down again, there was Dylan’s hat. I saw that and I said, ‘That’s it!’ … Tilt down and there’s this white hat, like something out of a Rafael painting. It was so strange. Didn’t have to announce anything. Who needs to announce Bob Dylan?”

World premiere restoration of ‘Amadeus’

A man in a pink wig conducts an orchestra.
Tom Hulce in the movie “Amadeus.”
(Los Angeles Philharmonic Assn.)
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I am jumping the gun a little here, since the screening isn’t until next Friday, the 31st, but the world premiere of a 4K restoration of Milos Forman’s “Amadeus” at the Academy Museum is worth getting excited about.

An adaptation of Tony Shaffer’s play, the film tells the story of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart from the perspective of his creative rival Antonio Salieri. The film won eight Academy Awards, including best picture, director, screenplay and actor for F. Murray Abraham as Salieri. (Tom Hulce as Mozart was also nominated.)

In her original Times review, Sheila Benson wrote, “The film’s details are exquisite. … It is made on so lavish a scale as to make you think you had died and gone back to the Golden Age of Movie Making.”

The Academy screening is already sold out, but there will be a stand-by line.

In other news

‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’

A suspicious woman drives a truck.
Anya Taylor-Joy in the movie “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.”
(Warner Bros. Pictures)

We have already mentioned George Miller’s “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” a few times here already over the past few weeks and the film is finally in theaters. I still haven’t seen it yet myself and can’t wait to catch up with it in the biggest, loudest room I can find.

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In telling a prequel story to 2015’s “Mad Max: Fury Road,” Miller has created a dense world, in which a young Furiosa (played first by Alyla Browne and then Anya Taylor-Joy) is snatched from her family and spends the rest of her life trying to get back to them.

Though the response from Cannes has tempered expectations somewhat — if it is no “Fury Road,” well, what is? — personally I am still pretty hyped. In his review from Cannes, Joshua Rothkopf noted, “If the movie has a deficiency (and it does), it’s not one of exposition but euphoria. … ‘Furiosa,’ to its distinction and detriment, ends up being too self-regarding, too downbeat. It takes the fun out of survival. Miller’s imagination has fed into ‘The Last of Us,’ ‘Fallout’ and a host of other grayscale nightmares for movies and TV. He knows better than anyone that forward momentum is key to a ‘Mad Max’ movie. Leave the prequels to those who don’t have any gas left in the tank.”

15 films for summer

A man in leather sits on a motorcycle.
Austin Butler in the movie “The Bikeriders.”
(Kyle Kaplan / Focus Features)

As part of our summer preview, we picked 15 must-see movies. It’s a broad-ranging list, including Jeff Nichols’ “The Bikeriders,” Erica Tremblay’s “Fancy Dance,” Agnieszka Holland’s “Green Border,” Annie Baker’s “Janet Planet,” Ti West’s “MaXXXine,” Greg Kwedar’s “Sing Sing” and Lee Isaac Chung’s “Twisters.”

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