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Indie Focus: Reuniting with ‘Pain and Glory’

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

L.A.’s Beyond Fest is heading into its final stretch, and there are still some terrific events to come. This year’s edition has just really solidified what an important event this has become for the local scene, as well as how wide-ranging and surprising the notion of a genre-centric festival can be.

The festival will have the world premiere of “Mister America,” starring Tim Heidecker and Gregg Turkington, while prolific independent genre filmmaker Joe Begos will screen two new features, “VFW” and “Bliss.”

Tommy Lee Wallace’s “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” which has gained cult credibility over the past few years, will be part of a triple-bill celebration of actor Tom Atkins. Carlos Mirabella-Davis’ “Swallow,” an unnerving hybrid of the domestic drama and body horror starring Haley Bennett, will also show.

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The festival will conclude Tuesday with a 25th-anniversary screening of “Natural Born Killers,” followed by a conversation with director Oliver Stone, actors Juliette Lewis and Woody Harrelson and producer Don Murphy. I recently spoke to Stone and Lewis about the movie; that interview will be published soon.

We’ll have a screening of the movie “Frankie,” followed by a Q&A with filmmaker Ira Sachs and actor Greg Kinnear, on Oct. 8. For more information, go to events.latimes.com.

Antonio Banderas in “Pain and Glory.”
Antonio Banderas as Salvador in “Pain and Glory.”
(Manolo Pavón / Sony Pictures Classics)

‘Pain and Glory’

Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar has been working at such a high level for so very long that he is very easy to take for granted. But his latest, “Pain and Glory,” is something special. The film reunites him once again with star Antonio Banderas — who won best actor at Cannes for his performance — in the story of an aging filmmaker grappling with the health problems of his present and reawakened feelings from his past.

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In his review for The Times, Kenneth Turan wrote, “Dramatic rather than melodramatic, autobiographical but only around the edges, using Antonio Banderas in unexpected ways but skillfully enough to win him the best actor prize at Cannes, Almodóvar takes delight in contradicting whatever you might be expecting … A film with many touchstones, pain, memory and enduring love among them, ‘Pain and Glory’ concerns itself most with the nature and influence of the creative impulse and the power of the past to revive and enlighten us in the present.”

I spoke to Almodóvar and Banderas about their latest collaboration — including the fact that Banderas wears the filmmaker’s own clothes and in the movie bears a striking resemblance to him. “It’s not so much that I wanted Antonio to look like me,” Almodóvar said. “I just wanted to make Antonio not look the way he looks. I just needed to change him. So I gave him my haircut. I gave him my clothes, I gave him my sneakers… But I didn’t have the intent of making it a self-portrait.”

For the New York Times, Manohla Dargis wrote, “One of Almodóvar’s talents is his transformational, near-alchemical use of blunt ideas, how he marshals crude gestures, gaudy flourishes and melodramatic entanglements. The emotions still sting here, and the colors glow like traffic lights — there are eye-popping bursts of stop-sign red and go-go green — and the movie is as visually striking as any Almodóvar has made. But the narrative is elegantly structured rather than clotted, and its tone is contemplative as opposed to frantic, as if he had turned down the volume. A great deal happens in ‘Pain and Glory,’ just not ritualistically and not at top volume. Its agonies are tempered, its regrets hushed, its restraint powerful.”

At Time, Stephanie Zacharek wrote, “Almodóvar has always been a deeply sensitive filmmaker, attuned to women’s experience, certainly, but also to drag queens and all manner of people who might have reason to feel like misfits. He was reckoning with trans identity long before mainstream conversation began to address it. Almodóvar made a place for everyone. So to see Almodóvar-as-Salvador suffering in this way, and unable to do the very work that he’s lived for, is acutely painful. We are, all of us, getting older, and with that comes reckoning. ‘Pain and Glory’ is much more restrained than the films Almodóvar made in his glory days. But it’s hardly joyless.”

Eddie Murphy in “Dolemite Is My Name.”
Eddie Murphy in “Dolemite Is My Name.”
(François Duhamel / Netflix)

‘Dolemite Is My Name’

Directed by “Hustle & Flow” filmmaker Craig Brewer from a screenplay by “Ed Wood” writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, “Dolemite Is My Name” (trailer contains swearing) turns the story of comedian and actor Rudy Ray Moore into an unexpectedly inspiring tale. Eddie Murphy gives an astounding performance as Moore, filled with infectious enthusiasm and tinged with sadness.

Reviewing the film for The Times, Kenneth Turan wrote, “In its own cracked way, ‘Dolemite’ is a tribute to the American dream, to never-say-die individuals impervious to criticism who end up bending the world to their particular visions … ‘Dolemite’ is also a rare opportunity for Murphy to combine his dazzling comic delivery of wave after wave of hard-core cursing with the desire he’s demonstrated — most effectively in his Oscar-nominated role in ‘Dreamgirls’ — to do roles that include dramatic elements.”

Jen Yamato spoke to Murphy, Brewer and more of the creative team behind the movie for a story that will be published soon. As Murphy told her of what drew him to Moore: “I didn’t have any experiences like Rudy Ray Moore, but I was a fan of his. When I got older and I found out how he put his movies together, how he had to put his records out, everything that I saw was something that he put together because he couldn’t get in, then his story became inspirational. I started looking at him like more than just a comedian. More like a guerrilla filmmaker, an independent filmmaker.”

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For Vanity Fair, K. Austin Collins wrote, “‘Dolemite’ is a movie that gives us a lot to look back on, both historically and in the case of Murphy’s long life in Hollywood — but I also think we still haven’t seen the extent of what Murphy can do. There are glints of anger in this movie, for example, and a few surprising but subtle risks that suggest this star still has a few new tricks hidden up his sleeve. We’ll have to wait for the movie that reveals them.”

Joaquin Phoenix in “Joker.”
Joaquin Phoenix in “Joker.”
(Niko Tavernise / Warner Bros. Pictures)

‘Joker’

Directed by Todd Phillips, “Joker” is a dark, unnerving take on the origins of the character of the comic-book supervillain the Joker. Starring Joaquin Phoenix in the title role, the movie is about an alienated young man, Arthur Fleck, who after suffering one humiliation and defeat after another refashions himself as an outrageous murderer, sending Gotham City into a frenzy.

The movie has stirred an intense amount of anxiety as to whether it might provoke real-life violence, making the lead-up to its release seem unusually fraught. For our podcast “The Reel,” I sat down with Justin Chang, Glenn Whipp and Sonaiya Kelley to talk about why this movie in particular has generated such concern and controversy.

In his review for The Times, Justin Chang called the movie “sensationally grim,” adding that, “With impressive skill and commitment, the director and his star, Joaquin Phoenix, reverse the moral logic of the origin story, replacing its sense of emergent order with a dark plunge into alienation and chaos.”

For The New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote a truly scathing review, saying, “To be worth arguing about, a movie must first of all be interesting: it must have, if not a coherent point of view, at least a worked-out, thought-provoking set of themes, some kind of imaginative contact with the world as we know it. ‘Joker,’ an empty, foggy exercise in second-hand style and second-rate philosophizing, has none of that.”

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


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