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Indie Focus: Taking off with ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’

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

There are two very exciting events at the UCLA Film and Television Archive this weekend. On Friday night, as part of the Outfest UCLA Legacy Project, there is a screening of Isaac Julien’s landmark portrait of racial and sexual identity in London with “Young Soul Rebels.” Then, on Saturday, there is a screening of the harrowing “Suburbia,” with a scheduled appearance by director Penelope Spheeris, followed by Allan Arkush’s delightful “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School,” in a new 2K restoration.

Francis Ford Coppola’s new “Apocalypse Now: Final Cut” will be getting a limited theatrical release to celebrate its 40th anniversary. While I personally have mixed feelings about filmmakers incessantly tinkering with their old work, the film is being presented in a 4K restoration with remastered sound, and any chance to see this overwhelming, devastating film in a venue like L.A.’s Cinerama Dome is a true treat.

We will have more screening events coming up soon. For info and updates on future events, go to events.latimes.com.

Cate Blanchett, from left, Richard Linklater and Billy Crudup on the set of “Where’d You Go, Bernadette.”
Actor Cate Blanchett, writer-director Richard Linklater, center, and actor Billy Crudup on the set of “Where’d You Go, Bernadette.”
(Wilson Webb / Annapurna Pictures )
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‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’

Richard Linklater’s adaptation of the novel by Maria Semple, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” is the story of a woman who has become a mystery to her family and, most especially, to herself. With a cast that includes Cate Blanchett in the title role, Billy Crudup, Kristen Wiig, Zoe Chao and newcomer Emma Nelson, the film is offbeat, unassuming and has a sneaky, surprising emotional edge — in other words, a Richard Linklater movie.

In his review for The Times, Kenneth Turan wrote, “In ‘Bernadette,’ Linklater brings his manifest empathy for character to Maria Semple’s smart and funny bestselling novel, with a splendid performance by Cate Blanchett in the title role added into the mix …The film is not without its problems, but its focus on the power of a mother-daughter bond and what can befall creative people when they no longer create generates considerable emotion by the close.”

I spoke to Linklater and his production designer Bruce Curtis about creating the world of the movie. As to how he approached the production overall, Linklater said, “The metaphor for the movie is very much like what she says several times, ‘What problems am I solving?’ She’s like, ‘I’ve got to know what I’m doing.’ And it was the same thing with this film. It was like, what does this film want to be? It’s just a little different. I’m just like that coach who wants the team to be what it wants to be rather than you impose your absolute will on it.”

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For the New York Times, Manohla Dargis wrote, “The human dark cloud churning violently over ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’ doesn’t much fit in anywhere, including in this comedy of crisis … She looks like a film star at a junket hunting for an exit or someone in witness protection. She’s in seclusion, in a way, though it takes a while for the obvious to surface: Bernadette is hiding from herself.”

For the Washington Post, Ann Hornaday added of the character of Bernadette, “As a fascinatingly contradictory raw nerve capable of rare humor, insight and cruelty all at once, she’s perfect fodder for the talents of Cate Blanchett, who radiates both otherworldliness and edgy neurosis in Richard Linklater’s generously humane film adaptation.”

At Slate, Dana Stevens wrote, “The aspect of the book Linklater has chosen to focus on, and the one he infuses with playfulness and warmth, is the complex bond between a flawed but loving mother and her devoted, if perhaps too-responsible, child … For all this movie’s faults, I can’t wait to take my own middle-school-aged daughter to see it; it’s rare to find a movie about mothers and daughters that neither sentimentalizes nor oversimplifies that too often idealized relationship.”

Goran Bjorkdahl, left, and Mads Brügger in “Cold Case Hammarskjöld.”
Goran Bjorkdahl, left, and Mads Brügger in “Cold Case Hammarskjöld.”
(Tore Vollan/Magnolia Pictures)

‘Cold Case Hammarskjöld’

Danish journalist and filmmaker Mads Brügger makes idiosyncratic documentaries that are, at once, outlandish, ironic and deadly serious. His latest, “Cold Case Hammarskjöld,” is a murder mystery about the circumstances around a 1961 plane crash that killed 16 people including United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, a proponent of African independence and decolonization.

In his review for The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “Hammarskjöld’s death is one of many unsolved mysteries in ‘Cold Case Hammarskjöld,’ a twisty, thorny new documentary that grips, jolts and exasperates in roughly equal measure. It’s the latest work from Mads Brügger, a Danish filmmaker with Michael Moore’s knack for confrontation and some of his countryman Lars von Trier’s impishness … He has carved out a lively, if murky, nonfiction niche for himself: He delights in storming into conflict zones and playing both the dogged muckraker and the self-aggrandizing showman.”

At IndieWire, David Ehrlich wrote, “If ‘Cold Case Hammarskjöld’ resolves as Brügger’s most rewarding film, it appears to reach that point almost by accident. His usual methods achieve most unusual results, as he digs into the facts with the wry amusement of someone who doesn’t expect to find anything … Brügger cops to his own foibles as an investigative journalist. Whether somewhat genuine or purely performative, his self-doubt becomes its own kind of spectacle, as the filmmaker starts to reckon with the idea that this may have been an enormous waste of time; it’s rare to see a documentarian grapple with the feeling that they won’t be able to salvage a worthwhile film from the years of footage they’ve shot along the way.”

Viveik Kalra holds Nell Williams in his arms in “Blinded by the Light.”
Viveik Kalra, left, and Nell Williams in “Blinded by the Light.”
(Nick Wall / Warner Bros.)

‘Blinded by the Light’

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Inspired by the life of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor and directed by Gurinder Chadha, “Blinded By The Light” is the story of a young man Javed (Viveik Kalra), the son of Pakistani parents living in 1980s England, and how he discovers his own sense of identity through the very American music of Bruce Springsteen.

Reviewing for The Times, Kenneth Turan wrote, “Springsteen’s music does not immediately make things better between Javed and his parents, but don’t lose faith. The reality of intergenerational conflict is a given for ‘Blinded by the Light,’ but nothing can stand up to the transformative power of the Boss. You can take that to the bank.”

For The Times, Emily Zemler spoke to Chadha, who spoke about the movie’s use of Springsteen’s music, saying, “Bruce stands for a particular kind of America — and always has done, from then to today. Those songs are from the ’70s and ’80s, but he’s No. 1 with an album right now all over the world, which is saying the same kinds of things. He’s sharing the same sentiments: Life’s a struggle, and you’ve got to find your promised land within it. I think people respond to Bruce’s version of America, which is where people care about each other.”

For Slate, Inkoo Kang wrote that while there are hazards to its cross-cultural representation, the film “not only manages to pirouette and stage-dive its way around most of these landmines but proves itself an old-fashioned blast in the best way: a smart crowd-pleaser that embraces both sweetness and complexity … ‘Blinded by the Light’ is a moving exploration of how the identities of second-generation immigrants are formed by choosing and adapting the parts of each culture that speak to us.”

Email me if you have questions, comments or suggestions, and follow me on Twitter: @IndieFocus.


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