Indie Focus: Greed is goofy in ‘The Laundromat’
Hello! I’m Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.
This week marks the beginning of a dynamic and vital new public screening program here in Los Angeles, Array 360, as part of the creative campus established by filmmaker Ava DuVernay. Overseen by director of programming Mercedes Cooper, this inaugural fall program opens Friday night with Euzhan Palcy’s 1983 film “Sugar Cane Alley,” followed by a conversation with the filmmaker. (And tickets are free!)
Other upcoming highlights include Kathleen Collins’ “Losing Ground,” followed by a conversation with Collins’ daughter, Nina Lorenz Collins. There’s also Barbara Loden’s “Wanda,” a retrospective tribute to the films of John Singleton, a program of Filipinx cinema, Mati Diop’s “Atlantique” and Agnès Varda’s first film, “La Pointe Courte,” plus her last, “Varda by Agnès.” Michael Mann’s “Collateral” will screen, too, followed by a not-to-be-missed conversation between Mann and DuVernay. This is all immediately a strong and needed addition to the circuit of venues for L.A.'s moviegoing culture.
As for our own screening events, we will have two coming up in October that we’ll be able to announce soon. For updates, go to events.latimes.com.
Directed with typical verve by Steven Soderbergh, “The Laundromat” takes what could be the very dry drama of the financial scandal known as the Panama Papers and turns it into an odd, funny, inside-out satire of greed and international bureaucracy for anyone who ever felt their eyes glaze over trying to decipher a legal document. The movie stars Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas, and the cast also includes Sharon Stone, David Schwimmer, Jeffrey Wright, Nonso Anozie, Rosalind Chao and many more.
In his review for The Times, Justin Chang wrote that “‘The Laundromat’ plunges headlong into the intricate workings of offshore bank accounts, shell companies and other means by which the global financial elite hide their wealth and avoid taxes. The movie is both a lesson and a diversion, a movie that seeks to educate by means of trickery and misdirection. It is thus best approached as a kind of cinematic shell game, in which the focus of the story keeps shifting and the full scope of the corruption on display remains just out of view.”
I spoke to Streep, Soderbergh, author Jake Bernstein and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns about creating a nervy satire out of the complicated reality of a financial scandal. For Streep, the way in which her character navigates the world of the movie was similar to her own trajectory of trying to understand the world the movie was about.
“It was a great way for me to figure it out because I didn’t know anything about this stuff,” said Streep. “You know, these shenanigans, they’re really deliberately opaque. I’m a smart girl, but it’s hard to see.”
For the New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote, “Rather than trying to elicit horror or pity, ‘The Laundromat’ aims to provoke a sense of spirited outrage, the sort of righteous disgust that might express itself through reform-minded citizen action. There’s no reason to be cynical about that. The main question about a movie like this is whether it can awaken viewers who aren’t already in agreement with its perspective and aware of the overall shape of its argument. … But for a movie about how awful the world is and how it got that way, ‘The Laundromat’ is kind of a lark.”
For Time, Stephanie Zacharek wrote that “Soderbergh isn’t always the most visually dynamic director, and here he’s more interested in crisp dialogue and the interplay between characters. … There’s no cure for greed, and ‘The Laundromat’ has no easy answers. But the only way to stop the spin cycle is to arm ourselves with some knowledge of how it works.”
Reviewing the film from the Venice Film Festival for Vanity Fair, Richard Lawson wrote, “In aggregate, the movie is well-intentioned, I think. But it shouldn’t seem like such a goof. Sure: have fun with all the insanity, all the desperate hoarding of millions. Just don’t smirk so much while patting us on the head. … It’ll be on Netflix, so it won’t cost you much to see it, which you maybe should. Still, I hoped for something more nourishing, something that made more satisfying sense out of all this robbery. I wish ‘The Laundromat’ could get rid of all the wigs and affect and winks, leaving the fakery to the bad guys.”
Directed by Rupert Goold, “Judy” is a look at the tumultuous period near the end of Judy Garland’s life when she was working at a small theater in London. With a lead performance by Renée Zellweger, the movie is both a tribute and reclamation of Garland’s legacy and an astonishing star turn by an actress returning to the spotlight.
In his review for The Times, Kenneth Turan wrote, “Zellweger gives a deep dive of a performance that is ferociously all in. The pain, the sadness, the insecurity, the vulnerability, the bad behavior — it’s all here, as is Garland’s resilience and her never-dimmed hopefulness that things might get better. The triumph of this performance is that Zellweger is not so much presenting a Garland we’ve never known as portraying the one we’ve read about with the kind of nuance and depth that insures hearts go out to her, as they always have.”
Amy Kaufman spoke to Zellweger, Goold and screenwriter Tom Edge. Of Garland’s tenacious career, Goold said, “I think she certainly felt like the way that she was treated in those studio days was at least partly responsible for the things she struggled with later in life. The pity of it is that this terrifically funny and talented and charismatic kid ended up on the other side of that system carrying so much damage. Yet at the same time, she endured and found her way back to her audience.”
For the New York Times, Manohla Dargis said, “Mostly, ‘Judy’ offers the familiar spectacle of one star playing another. Zellweger’s performance is credible, with agitated flutters and filigreed touches, though it leans hard on Judy’s tremulous fragility, as if she were a panicked hummingbird. The take is also cautious, too comfortable; it never makes you flinch or look away. … ‘Judy’ tries hard to inject brightness and pleasure into this bleak picture as this lost, luminous woman grabs onto one last chance, one more man. It shows the highs and some of the lows, piles on the strained smiles and upbeat tunes, embracing the woman even as it tries to temper the despair that comes from watching someone die in slow motion.”
In a review for the Associated Press, Lindsey Bahr wrote, “It’s Zellweger who makes her come alive again with a clear-eyed, deeply emphatic and captivating portrayal that elegantly balances her profound sadness and vulnerability with that gloriously bawdy and dark sense of humor. Zellweger’s voice might not be an exact match of Garland’s, but the soul and spirit that she brings along with her lovely approximation will certainly elicit more than a few goosebumps.”
For Vanity Fair, K. Austin Collins noted, “Zellweger — herself in the midst of a career comeback after a recent six-year sabbatical — presses on in her own way, with a face that is always up to something, nose twitching, eyes fluttering, lips vibrant with movement and feeling, like they’re always on the cusp of some abrupt new emotion. Some of that undoubtedly owes to the fact that we’re watching Garland in a low, heavily medicated, frequently drunk period of her life. But Zellweger, who does her own singing and dancing in the film, is also serving us her own idea of Garland, one that gracefully, thrillingly toes the line between camp artifice and fidelity — between ‘overdoing it’ and doing it just enough.”
‘The Day Shall Come’
Directed by British satirist Chris Morris and co-written by “Succession” showrunner Jesse Armstrong, “The Day Shall Come” is an absurdist comedy with an unsettling basis in reality. In Florida the beleaguered, self-styled leader of a small religious sect (Marchánt Davis) is set up by FBI agents (Denis O’Hare, Anna Kendrick) to make it appear they have taken down a dangerous terrorist group.
Reviewing for The Times, Robert Abele wrote, “The result is a kind of rolling theater of racially targeted, manufactured peril that exploits the underprivileged, rewards corruption and ultimately — when the farce plays itself out — isn’t actually funny. But that’s only after it brilliantly is funny, producing plenty of acrid, world-upside-down laughter about the ridiculous truth behind some serious modern delusions about whom we should be scared of.”
I spoke to Morris about the movie when it premiered at the South By Southwest Film Festival earlier this year, where he talked about making a comedy out of real-world events.
“It’s a comedy about injustice,” Morris said. “So one’s response is to do with the injustice of the way these things work, but also a fascination in the way these things work. So you’re kind of dealing with a complicated granola of known and unknown ingredients.”
For The Wrap, Monica Castillo wrote, “Despite the serious subject, Morris gives ‘The Day Shall Come’ a brisk and upbeat tone. Some situations are so silly, you can’t help but laugh. … ‘The Day Shall Come’ is greatest when skewering power and shining a light on grave legal overreach. That we can laugh about it is great, but it’s a sign of our own security, of how unlikely we feel that we would be targeted in the same way. For others, laughing at this movie may not be so easy.”
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