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Indie Focus: A tart delight with ‘Emma’

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

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The American Cinematheque will screen filmmaker Rian Johnson’s personal 35 mm print — the only one in existence — of his Oscar-nominated murder mystery “Knives Out” for the first time anywhere on Monday Feb. 24.

The Cinematheque will also be spotlighting filmmaker Kelly Reichardt, an unabashed favorite in these parts. They will be showing her early works “Old Joy” and “River of Grass” along with her latest, “First Cow,” a story of friendship and frontier. The series will also feature two films selected by Reichardt, Kenji Mizoguchi’s “Ugetsu” and Jean Rouch’s “Little by Little.”

For our entertainment podcast “The Reel” this week, first I spoke to Ryan Faughnder about how “Sonic the Hedgehog” went from internet joke to box office success, and then Jen Yamato talked about the anticipated sequel “To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You.”

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

‘Emma’

An adaptation of the Jane Austen novel “Emma” is the feature directing debut of photographer Autumn de Wilde with a screenplay by Booker Prize-winning novelist Eleanor Catton. The movie is tart and sweet and delightful as a fine meringue, starring Anya Taylor-Joy in the title role as a young woman who learns the toll of her meddling and match-making in the affairs of others, with a strong supporting cast including Mia Goth, Johnny Flynn, Miranda Hart, Bill Nighy and more.

In his review for The Times, Kenneth Turan wrote, “The particular line that De Wilde’s ‘Emma’ walks is between the snarky and satirical and the emotional, emphasizing (with a tone reminiscent of Whit Stillman’s [Kate] Beckinsale-starring ‘Love & Friendship’) the sharp societal skewering often present in Austen while not neglecting the writer’s trademark love, romance and the happy ending devoutly to be wished.”

The Times’ Amy Kaufman has written a profile of De Wilde that will be publishing soon. She spoke to De Wilde’s friend and collaborator Miranda July, who spoke about what De Wilde brought to the project: “One of the things I was most struck by that seemed very intimately her is like her female gaze on men and romance … I just think it’s interesting in this moment, when you wonder what have we been missing — it’s a different way to see men. Of course we’ve missed women’s voices and stories, but men have missed out on a certain kind of tenderness that someone like Autumn can give. It’s interesting to think there may be some healing in that.”

For the New York Times, Manohla Dargis wrote, “Austen’s story and words, it turns out, prove unsurprisingly durable and impervious to decorative tweaking. And so, after a while, the [Wes] Anderson-ish tics become less noticeable, and both the emotions and overall movie more persuasive. Much of this has to do with the pleasure of watching people fall on their faces — and in love — and with the suppleness of the largely note-perfect cast. Together, they deepen the feelings that swirl around a woman who with a sharp tongue and a vast imagination invents her world amusingly, foolishly, enduringly.”

At Vulture, Alison Willmore said the film “occupies a perplexing if ultimately pleasurable spot on the Austen industrial complex’s twin axes of faithful/revisionist and realistic/stylized … The muted pastels of de Wilde’s palette and the flat precision of her compositions are so intensely of the moment that when the title appears onscreen, in a serif font in millennial pink, it looks like it could be an ad for a start-up that’s setting out to disrupt houseplants (and no, the punctuation is not optional) … It’s all very droll, though it can also feel distant, as though the romance at its core can only be reached by peeling away layers of irony.”

At Vox, Alissa Wilkinson wrote that this all “adds up to a very comical, very humanist take on ‘Emma.’ These characters don’t feel like figures lifted from a book, or actors laced into period garb playing out a tale set in a bygone golden era. Their time was just as silly as ours, and the things they struggled with were just as real. It’s a delight to watch — and it’s a worthy addition to the Austen canon, too.”

Mia Goth as Harriet Smith and Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma Woodhouse in Autumn de Wilde’s “Emma.”
Mia Goth (left) as Harriet Smith and Anya Taylor-Joy (right) as Emma Woodhouse in Autumn de Wilde’s “Emma.”
(Focus Features)
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‘Premature’

Directed by Rashaad Ernesto Green, “Premature” is co-written by Green and Zora Howard, who also turns in a powerful, compelling lead performance. In the film, a young woman named Ayanna (Howard) is preparing to leave her home in Harlem at the end of the summer for college. Then she begins a romance with the slightly-older Isaiah (Joshua Boone) that might move her from the path she has worked so hard to be on.

In his review for The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “What’s remarkable about ‘Premature’ is how much Howard says with her silences alone. It’s worth noting that she co-wrote the script with Green, and their restraint on the page finds a skillful complement in Howard’s performance on the screen. To watch Ayanna quietly think her way through each situation — whether she’s taking pleasure in a new experience or weighing the consequences of a difficult decision — is to watch a person coming into being, not a moment too soon or late.”

For The Times, Sonaiya Kelley spoke to Green and Howard about their collaboration on the film for a story that will be publishing soon. As Howard said of her character, “A lot of this film is about finding love in another person for the first time but there’s also Ayanna learning how to love herself and what it really costs us to love ourselves … How much continuous work it takes. We never stop learning and that’s what we see Ayanna go through, how to choose herself.”

Reviewing the film for the Wrap, Candice Frederick wrote, “‘Premature’ captures that unexpected, earth-shattering moment in life when you realize adulthood, real adulthood, is not so simple and cute. It’s difficult, it’s scary, and it’s heartbreaking at times. That’s what Howard’s beautiful performance conveys. When she’s tearfully knocking on Isaiah’s door and screaming his name after he’s turned his back on their relationship once it reaches a pinnacle, you feel it in your gut. He’s not opening the door, and she’s stuck alone with her overwhelming emotions for a man who was already grown before he met her.”

At Shadow and Act, Aramide A. Tinubu wrote, “Authentically raw — almost to the point where it was painful to watch certain scenes in the film, Green does not ease his audience into Ayanna’s world. This makes the first act of ‘Premature’ particularly unsettling. We’re left to watch this tiny Black woman navigate the world and all of its predatory elements with her guarded nature and sharp tongue as her only weapons. And yet, that’s what makes ‘Premature’ so profound. As the end of summer looms, Ayanna is forced to make some tough choices. Those decisions, born out of the hope and fear of first-time love, will alter her life forever.”

Joshua Boone and Zora Howard in the movie “Premature.”
Joshua Boone and Zora Howard in the movie “Premature.”
(IFC Films)

‘Zombi Child’

Written and directed by French filmmaker Bertrand Bonello, “Zombi Child” is a cerebral horror film that moves between 1962 Haiti and contemporary France. In Haiti, a man named Clairvius Narcisse (Mackenson Bijou) is turned into a zombie and forced to work on a sugar plantation. In France at a boarding school, a girl (Louise Labèque) befriends a direct descendant of Narcisse (Wislanda Louimat), setting in motion unexpected events.

In a review for The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “Even when the picture eludes your narrative grasp, its estimable craft — evident in the shadows of Yves Cape’s photography and the moody ambience of the score, which Bonello composed himself — exerts its own hypnotic pull. The director’s talent, as ever, is predicated on an avoidance of the obvious. The cautionary implications of the story are plain to see (don’t mess with what you don’t understand), but not least among this most peculiar zombie movie’s surprises is the optimistic, even romantic grace note on which it ends. History goes on, and so does life — though as Clairvius Narcisse came to know as well as anyone, not always as you’d expect.”

For the New York Times, Glenn Kenny wrote, “The connection between ritual and revenge in Haitian custom and race and class hierarchies in contemporary France gets a deliberate teasing out here ... The movie revisits Haiti throughout, time-tripping all the way, as its modern tale puts a genre spin on the theme of cultural appropriation. The movie’s inconclusiveness is the source of its appeal; ‘Zombi Child’ is fueled by insinuation and fascination.”

For Vanity Fair, K. Austin Collins wrote, “What induces ‘Zombi’s’ brief pivot to greatness in its latter half is an unexpected favor that gets asked and carried out — a risky and ill-advised endeavor that clarifies much of what the film has to say about history, capital, and middle-class French identity. It gets thrilling, riding the knife’s edge of terror and discomfiting silliness … I watch Bonello’s movies with the keen sense that I’m in the hands of an artist laboring hard to engineer this sense of contradiction and conflict. It’s also true that I can too often feel that engineering creaking under the floorboards of his films. But for ‘Zombi Child,’ as for much of Bonello’s work, that frustration is precisely what proves enticing — even if it’s only worth it half the time.”

Louise Labèque and Wislanda Louimet in the movie “Zombi Child.”
Louise Labèque and Wislanda Louimet in the movie “Zombi Child.”
(Film Movement)
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