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Indie Focus: Freshening up with ‘Little Women’

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

Times critics Kenneth Turan and Justin Chang recently published their year-end best-of lists, and both go well beyond simply listing 10 favorites from this year. Kenny named “Ford v Ferrari” as his favorite film of the year and also lauded “The Irishman,” “Synonyms,” “Tel Aviv on Fire,” “Maiden,” “Marriage Story,” “1917,” “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” and more. And Justin singled out films including “Parasite,” “Knives Out,” “The Souvenir,” “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,""A Hidden Life” and many more.

For a year-end piece, I wrote about how with films such as “Little Women,” “Ad Astra” and “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” independent directors like Greta Gerwig, James Gray and Marielle Heller made forays into studio filmmaking, one of many signals of the changing landscape of Hollywood. For a decade-end piece, the entire L.A. Times Calendar staff created this list of our 100 favorite pop culture moments of the millennium. (I wrote entries on Ava DuVernay and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”)

And for our entertainment podcast, “The Reel,” I spoke with filmmakers Josh and Benny Safdie about the long process of making their new movie, “Uncut Gems.”

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For information on upcoming L.A. Times screenings and Q&A events, visit events.latimes.com/screenings.

Greta Gerwig
Greta Gerwig wrote and directed the latest adaptation of “Little Women.”
(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

‘Little Women’

With her adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel “Little Women,” writer-director Greta Gerwig has created something spirited and fresh. Opening Christmas Day with a marvelous cast starring Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Eliza Scanlon, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Timothée Chalamet, Tracy Letts and Louis Garrel, the movie itself becomes the clearest answer to anyone wondering if the world needs another version of “Little Women.” Of course, it does, because this movie is great.

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In a review for The Times, Kenneth Turan wrote, “Though dealing at its very core with questions of equality — with still-timely concerns about the economic difficulty women face in living independent lives — the key to the appeal of this ‘Little Women’ is its remarkable emotional accessibility, its vibrant picture of four girls alternately blessed and frustrated by the closeness of sisterhood.”

At the Washington Post, Ann Hornaday wrote, “This is a big, generous-hearted movie, as smart as it is pretty; as an homage to female ambitions, appetites and irrepressible will, it feels both true to its period and entirely of the moment. It would be hard to find a ‘Little Women’ more suited to its times, for love or money.”

For the AP, Lindsey Bahr said, “There is a wild urgency to Greta Gerwig’s ‘Little Women’ that hardly seems possible for a film based on a 150-year-old book. But such is the magic of combining Louisa May Alcott’s enduring story of those four sisters with Gerwig’s deliciously feisty, evocative and clear-eyed storytelling that makes this ‘Little Women’ a new classic.”

For Vulture, Alison Willmore wrote of Gerwig’s decision to make this the follow-up to “Lady Bird,” her film from 2017. “If, at the time, taking on such well-trodden material sounded like a staid choice for someone with the world at her feet, well, the film that she went on to make feels quite the opposite. It feels, exhilaratingly, like the throwing down of a gauntlet. Gerwig’s ‘Little Women’ demands its viewers reconsider these familiar characters and what we’ve always assumed they stood for. It doesn’t just brim with life, it brims with ideas about happiness, economic realities, and what it means to push against or to hew to the expectations laid out for one’s gender.”

Julia Stockler in “Invisible Life.”
Julia Stockler in “Invisible Life.”
(Bruno Machado/Amazon Studios)

‘Invisible Life’

Directed by Karim Aïnouz, “Invisible Life” is an adaptation of Martha Batalha’s 2016 novel “The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão,” the story of two sisters in 1950s Rio de Janeiro. After winning the top prize in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes, the film was Brazil’s entry for this year’s best international feature Oscar but missed out on the recently announced shortlist of potential nominees.

In a review for The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “The sins of the patriarchy are fairly out in the open in ‘Invisible Life’ … but there are no easy or one-note villains. For the director as well as the audience, hating the men in this movie is of secondary importance to loving its women, as Aïnouz so clearly does.”

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For the New York Times, Glenn Kenny wrote, “ ‘Invisible Life’ is a modern melodrama that’s proud to be one. Its mix of vivid period detail and raw frankness about sexuality and poverty and women’s oppression is heady and bracing; its depiction of female friendship and love is pointedly ferocious. The movie also makes a strong case that men are a leading cause of what was once called manic depressive psychosis in women.”

“Cats,” from left, Rumpleteazer (Naoimh Morgan), Victoria (Francesca Hayward) and Mungojerrie (Danny Collins),
“Cats,” from left, Rumpleteazer (Naoimh Morgan), Victoria (Francesca Hayward) and Mungojerrie (Danny Collins).
(Universal Pictures)

‘Cats’

What is there to say about “Cats,” the movie adaptation of the long-running musical? Directed by Tom Hooper with a cast that includes Jennifer Hudson, Idris Elba, Jason Derulo, Taylor Swift, Ian McKellen and Judi Dench, if nothing else, the movie has inspired some of the zaniest movie writing of the year, as critics attempt to process what is going on in their eyes and brains as they watch it.

For The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “Given how often the movies tend to stereotype felines as smug, pampered homebodies, there are certainly worse characters one could spend time with, though I am hard-pressed at the moment to think of many worse movies. I say this with zero hyperbole and the smallest kernel of admiration. For the most part, ‘Cats’ is both a horror and an endurance test, a dispatch from some neon-drenched netherworld where the ghastly is inextricable from the tedious. Every so often it does paws — ahem, pause — to rise to the level of a self-aware hoot.”

At the New York Times, Manohla Dargis wrote, “It is tough to pinpoint when the kitschapalooza called ‘Cats’ reaches its zenith or its nadir, which are one and the same … I could go on and must go on — yet how to explain the seemingly unexplainable, beginning with a narrative and language that borders on the gnomic? A doctoral thesis could be written on how this misfire sputtered into existence, though there’s nothing new about the movies’ energetic embrace of bad taste.”

For Time, Stephanie Zacharek wrote that “it’s all innocent enough, especially once you enter the enchanted forest of Hayward’s dancing … Hayward is the very best thing about ‘Cats,’ a movie that, like cats themselves, is otherwise filled with contradictions. ‘Cats’ is terrible, but it’s also kind of great. And, to cat-burgle a phrase from Eliot himself, there’s nothing at all to be done about that.”

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


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