Indie Focus: Summer's almost over

Hello! I’m Mark Olsen, and welcome to your weekly field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

Among recent new releases is Craig Zobel’s “Z For Zachariah,” a post-apocalyptic fable about human emotions and society building starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Margot Robbie and Chris Pine. At one of our Indie Focus Screening Series events we showed the film followed by a conversation with Ejiofor.

You can listen here to a podcast from our Q&A with Ejiofor.

Check here for more info on future events:

Summer recap

Before we head on into fall, Rebecca Keegan and I paused for a conversation about the summer movie season. And by and large, I have to say we liked what we saw. The kind of big summer action movies that tend to dominate the conversation were still present but more tucked into a broader landscape.

Movies like “Straight Outta Compton,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Pitch Perfect 2” and “Trainwreck” seemed to be as much a part of the season as more typical summer fare such as “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron” or “Jurassic World.”

The principal five actors in “Straight Outta Compton.” (Jaimie Trueblood / Associated Press)

As Rebecca put it: “Summer is traditionally the season of the superhero at the box office, but it seems significant that many of the movies that made the biggest impression on me this year emerged from outside the comic-book genre. Event movies — Hollywood's term for films with a built-in fan base that get a bullish marketing push — are diversifying, and that's a welcome change.”

'Queen of Earth'

Among the most original voices to emerge from the American independent film scene in the last few years has been Alex Ross Perry. His latest film, “Queen of Earth,” comes quickly after last year’s “Listen Up Philip” and is both a change-up in style and tone and a continuation of some of Perry’s ongoing preoccupations. “Queen of Earth,” which stars Elisabeth Moss as a woman having a nervous breakdown and Katherine Waterston as a friend either easing or causing her trauma, is already playing in New York and opens in Los Angeles on Sept. 4.

The New Yorker’s Richard Brody recently called the film “a masterwork of tone and mood.” In the New York Times, Manohla Dargis said, “It is Ms. Moss, with her intimate expressivity, who annihilates you from first tear to last crushing laugh.”

Perry and Moss did a Q&A at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which Perry noted on Twitter could be listened to by anyone watching the film at home via digital delivery.

Our own Steven Zeitchik, in writing a piece timed to the release of “Listen Up Philip,” was actually on set during the production of “Queen of Earth.” And in writing my own story about Perry’s earlier film “The Color Wheel,” I did an email Q&A with Olivier Pere that was later published in full online in France. It is also included as part of the recent DVD release via Factory 25

'The Quay Brothers in 35'

Christopher Nolan, director of the “Batman” trilogy and "Interstellar,” has a new movie coming to Los Angeles, but it is not a big-budget major studio action blockbuster. Rather, it is a short tribute to the filmmaking duo of Stephen and Timothy Quay. Titled “Quay,” Nolan’s 8.5-minute film is an unprecedented behind-the-scenes look at the brothers in their studio.

Christopher Nolan attends the premiere of "Interstellar." (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images)

The film will first play at the Cinefamily on Sept. 4, with Nolan and the Quays scheduled to attend, to open a series “The Quay Brothers in 35 mm.” The series, curated by Nolan, spotlights the detail and otherworldly mystery of the Quays' work, and includes the films “In Absentia,” “The Comb” and “The Street of Crocodiles.” The series runs through Sept. 13.

I interviewed the Quay brothers for the release of their earlier film “The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes.” We spoke on the phone and they politely but firmly declined to individually identify themselves.

“You won't be able to tell the difference between us. We finish each other's sentences,” they said. “You better just say it's the Quays talking. Otherwise it won't be worth the effort.”

‘Aloha’ again

A movie that opened in May seems like a long time ago by this point in the summer. Cameron Crowe’s “Aloha” just came out via digital services and on a Blu-ray disc that is packed with extras. There’s a full-length commentary, an hour-long making-of documentary, an alternate ending and even a 19-minute alternate opening sequence. (Crowe seems to remain committed to physical media, and also recently oversaw a Blu-ray release of his 2001 film “Vanilla Sky.”)

The film is largely set around an American Air Force base in Hawaii, and in a commentary track for the film recorded before its theatrical release, Crowe says, “Hawaii is so much more complex than the stereotype of the guy with the cocktail with an umbrella in it and a floral shirt. That stereotype of Hawaii is very different from the truth.”

Emma Stone, Bradley Cooper and Rachel McAdams in "Aloha." (Neal Preston / Columbia Pictures)

As readers may recall, “Aloha” sparked controversy when it was released due to its portrayal of Hawaii and a quarter-Chinese, quarter-Hawaiian character played by actress Emma Stone. Jen Yamato wrote powerfully about the issues surrounding the film at the Daily Beast.

Despite its flaws, the film shouldn't be entirely dismissed. As A.O. Scott put it in his New York Times review, “While I can’t make any excuses for ‘Aloha’ – to the extent it can even figure out what movie it wants to be, it’s not a very good one – I can leaven my disappointment with mercy.” Or as I put it in my own review, “Best to see 'Aloha' as a messy, imperfect movie about messy, imperfect people.”

Among the most thoughtful and impassioned defenses of “Aloha” came via the website the Talkhouse, in which artists discuss the work of other artists. Alex Ross Perry declared, "'Aloha' is uneven at best and lesser Crowe at worst, but that’s still a pretty good thing."

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