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Indie Focus: A moment of change in ‘Once Upon A Time ... In Hollywood’

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

The Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, the largest Latinx film festival in L.A., starts Wednesday, July 31, and runs through Sunday, Aug. 4 at the TCL Chinese Theatres in Hollywood. With 15 features and 17 shorts plus other programs, it promises to be a vital event.

The festival opens with Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera’s “The Infiltrators,” which won two prizes when it premiered earlier this year at Sundance. Other noteworthy features include Alice Furtado’s “Sick, Sick, Sick,” Ivete Lucas and Patrick Bresnan’s “Pahokee,” Gabriel Mascaro’s “Divine Love” and Rashaad Ernesto Green’s “Premature.” The festival will close with the world premiere of “The Devil Has A Name,” directed by the festival’s co-founder Edward James Olmos.

On Monday the 29th, we’ll have a screening of “After The Wedding,” which also premiered earlier this year at Sundance, followed by a Q&A with actresses Julianne Moore and Abby Quinn and director-screenwriter Bart Freundlich. For info and updates on future events, go to events.latimes.com.

Leonardo DiCaprio, left, and Brad Pitt in “Once Upon a Time ... In Hollywood.”
Leonardo DiCaprio, left, and Brad Pitt in "Once Upon a Time ... In Hollywood."
(Andrew Cooper/Columbia Pictures)
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‘Once Upon A Time … In Hollywood’

The new film from Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon A Time … In Hollywood” captures both an industry and a culture in transition. Set in Los Angeles in 1969, the film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton, an actor seeing his career fade away from him, and Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth, Rick’s longtime stunt double. Living next door to Rick on Cielo Drive is Sharon Tate, played by Margot Robbie. People with even a passing knowledge of Tate, Charles Manson and the late ’60s might guess what happens next.

Reviewing for The Times, Kenenth Turan wrote, “Tarantino was a boy of 6 in 1969, living far from the center of Los Angeles, and in a sense what he’s done here is re-create the world he’s imagined the adults were living in at the time. If it plays like a fairy tale, and it does, don’t forget the first words in the title are ‘Once Upon a Time.’ ”

Jeffrey Fleishman wrote about Tate, and all the ways in which the movie attempts to return to her the life and humanity that was taken when she was murdered by followers of Charles Manson. As he wrote, “Tate lived at a moment when the counterculture barged in on the martini set and tore up the rules ... an actress who personified a time at the instant that time changed.”

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Ryan Faughnder interviewed Sony Pictures’ film chairman, Tom Rothman, about the gamble the studio is taking with the expensive, ambitious picture. “If this doesn’t work, it’s on my head,” Rothman said. “I lobbied for this.”

I was joined by colleagues Turan, Julia Turner, Jen Yamato and Justin Chang to talk about Tarantino, the movie and its daring ending on this week’s episode of “The Reel.”

For the New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote, “Tarantino’s sense of the movie past is often described as nostalgic. He tends to be seen — by admirers and critics alike — as a film geek, a fanboy, a fanatic cinephile with an encyclopedic command of archaic styles and genres. True enough. But ‘Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood’ shows that he deserves a loftier, possibly more contentious label. It’s the expression of a sensibility that is profoundly and passionately conservative.”

Reviewing for the Washington Post, Ann Hornaday wrote “Tarantino cleverly exposes the dichotomous worlds of 1960s L.A.: a swinging, star-studded party at the Playboy Mansion serves as a cautionary mirror to the playboy Manson and his band of nubile wastrels. And the ways he confects to have them intersect are part of the fun of ‘Hollywood,’ even if ‘fun’ here comes with a toxic kick.”

For the Chicago Tribune, Katie Walsh wrote, “It’s shocking to say that Quentin Tarantino’s Manson murders film is perhaps his most sedate and self-reflective yet. But maybe that’s because it’s not a Manson murders film. It’s not even a revenge picture. Rather, ‘Once Upon a Time ... In Hollywood’ is a rumination on stardom and myth-making, a memo on the cult of celebrity and the narratives we use to process the world around us.”

For Rolling Stone, David Fear added of Tarantino, “For an artist whose work has been fueled by such an all-consuming obsession with movies, it’s surprising that it has taken him this long to write and direct something about the movies. You wouldn’t say this was the film he was born to make. But the alpha king of the cinenerds has been leading up to this sort of meta industry-town ballad for a while.”

Alex Bogdan, left, and Ioana Iacob in “I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians.”
Alex Bogdan, left, and Ioana Iacob in "I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians."
(Big World Pictures)

‘I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History As Barbarians’

Taking its title from words spoken by Romania’s military dictator Marshal Ion Antonescu in 1941, “I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History As Barbarians” is the latest from filmmaker Radu Jude. The dark satire follows a young theater director (Iona Jacob) who is attempting to reenact the Odessa Massacre even in the face of interference from the local government.

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Reviewing for The Times, Justin Chang called the film “explosively eloquent and morally galvanizing,” before adding, “The genius of ‘I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians’ is that, without sacrificing an iota of its piercing specificity, it speaks to the forces of nativism and barbarism that are dispiritingly common to every country and culture. We really should know better by now. In watching this movie, perhaps we do.”

At Film Comment, Jonathan Romney wrote, “Amid this dense battery of historical and cultural argumentation is some pithy comedy, all the more slippery as it’s couched in the self-conscious framing of Jude’s film. At the start, its lead introduces herself to camera as Ioana Iacob, tells us that she’s playing a character called Mariana Marin, and then strides off, rifle slung over her shoulder, with a cheery ‘Enjoy the film!’ ”

Reviewing for Variety, Jessica Kiang added, “To fully deconstruct Romanian director Radu Jude’s meta-on-meta ‘ “I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians” ’ (the quote marks are part of the title) would require page upon page of single-spaced footnotes, swathes of Hannah Arendt, a deft repackaging of Walter Benjamin’s ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History,’ and a crash course in Romanian anti-Semitism and the nation’s participation in World War II, amid formal nods to Godard, Straub-Huillet, and Marxist critical theory, while martial music plays in the background. … But it is also startling — a provocative, sarcastic, and momentous act of interrogation between the past and the present that escalates to an impasse, with the hands of each locked around the neck of the other.”

Beekeeper Hatidze Muratova  in “Honeyland.”
Hatidze Muratova in "Honeyland."
(Ljubo Stefanov / Neon)

‘Honeyland’

Directed by Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov, “Honeyland” tells the story of Hatidze, a beekeeper in the mountains of Macedonia, who works in a traditional way not practiced by many people. But when a new neighboring family arrives, the delicate balance of Hatidze’s life and work is thrown in chaos.

Reviewing the film for The Times, Justin Chang wrote that the film, “is first and foremost a graceful evocation of interspecies coexistence, of lives lived in delicate balance with the natural world … But it also becomes something more: a harrowing portrait of how quickly and easily that balance can fall apart.”

For The Atlantic, David Sims wrote, “A sensitivity to both petty human concerns and striking natural beauty is what makes Honeyland a particularly enthralling documentary. Nature filmmaking that focuses only on the environment can feel a little dry, while so-called human-interest storytelling can be cloying; Honeyland succeeds by combining the two, telling a personal tale with the sweeping, aloof grandeur of a David Attenborough series.”

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