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Indie Focus: Going places with ‘Columbus,’ ‘Step’ and ‘Wind River’

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

In addition to new releases, there are so many special movie events coming up in Los Angeles. I tell anyone who will listen that the Sundance Next Fest has quickly become one of my favorite events on the annual L.A. movie calendar. The combination of movies, music and conversations — this year, the advertising includes the word “mischief” — makes for a really special and unique program. This year’s festival runs Aug. 10-13 and features the movies “Lemon,” “Golden Exits” and “L.A. Times,” musical acts Lizzo, Sleigh Bells and Electric Guest and much more.

An exciting new series just started at the UCLA Film and Television Archives and is tied to the new book “Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You: The Shadow Cinema of the American ’70s,” by Charles Taylor. Among the movies still to come are dazzling double bills of “Two-Lane Blacktop” with “Vanishing Point” and “Foxy Brown” with “Coffy.” Also screening are “Eyes of Laura Mars” and “Cisco Pike.” These are rare chances to see these films on the big screen.

The American Cinematheque is celebrating the centennial of French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville with a retrospective of his films. His moody, existential thrillers have come to define a certain strain of cinematic cool, with electric performances from the likes of Alain Delon, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Catherine Deneuve. As Times critic Kenneth Turan put it, “He made movies about moral dilemmas as if they were thrillers and treated his thrillers like exercises in morality.”

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We had a great screening of “The Only Living Boy in New York” followed by a candid conversation with director Marc Webb. To find out more and for updates on future events, go to events.latimes.com.

Jin (John Cho) takes in the lush view of the Miller House Gardens in “Columbus.”
Jin (John Cho) takes in the lush view of the Miller House Gardens in “Columbus.”
(Elisha Christian / Superlative Film)

‘Columbus’

The new film “Columbus” is set very specifically in the town of Columbus, Ind., a place known for its unusual collection of modernist architecture. The debut feature from Korean American writer-director Kogonada, up to now known for a series of video essays on filmmakers and filmmaking, “Columbus” is a finely woven character drama starring John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson and Parker Posey.

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Reviewing the film for The Times, Justin Chang called it “serenely intelligent” and went on to add, “With its quotidian rhythms, gossamer-thin story and steady accumulation of visual wonders, the movie may indeed test the limits of your attention span at times, but always in the interests of expanding your vision and clarifying your perceptions. If you find yourself losing interest, you have only yourself to blame.”

Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne wrote about the movie as well, for its use of the spaces of its namesake town. He gave particular note of how the fact that “Kogonada and his cinematographer, Elisha Christian, frame these buildings, with an unhurried series of static shots, says a lot about the larger story they’re trying to tell. Once in a very long while there’s a subtle zoom or an almost imperceptible tracking shot, but in general this is a film very much about stillness, one firmly rooted in place. … Or rather it’s a film about how tricky it can be to find a balance between rootedness and ambition.”

For The Times, Geoff Berkshire spoke to Cho about his rare chance to step into a leading role.

“It felt like a little bit of a dream,” the actor said. “Projects this small and this unusual are hard to make real, but it happened. All of a sudden we got the call, and I was in Columbus.”

At the New York Times, Ben Kenigsberg wrote: “‘Columbus’ can be slyly mysterious from a structural standpoint, both with respect to the plot’s elisions and several cuts that demand that viewers fill in the blanks. The movie leaves quite a bit to the eye of the beholder, but it’s always worth looking at.

At the Wrap, Inkoo Kang added: “If ‘Before Sunrise’ were set in a mournful Midwest, it might look something like ‘Columbus.’ Avoidance and delay fuel most of the (in)action, and so Jin and Casey mostly walk around and talk about the stocky modernist landmarks that dot the Indiana architectural mecca.”

From left: Blessin Giraldo, Cori Grainger and Tayla Solomon of the documentary “Step” hold director
From left: Blessin Giraldo, Cori Grainger and Tayla Solomon of the documentary “Step” hold director Amanda Lipitz alongside coach Gari McIntyre.
(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)

‘Step’

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The documentary “Step,” directed by Amanda Lipitz, won a special jury award for inspirational filmmaking when it premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, and it is easy to see why. As Kenneth Turan put it in his review for The Times, “ ‘Step’ is nominally about the roller-coaster senior year of members of a charter school step team, but that is a bit like saying the classic ‘Hoop Dreams’ is a film about basketball.”

Turan added, “Combining performance and feeling in a way that recalls the Oscar-winning ‘20 Feet From Stardom,’ ‘Step’ is a documentary that feels like it is waiting to happen, just crying out to be made. Which is, given how many tears are shed on-screen and likely to be matched by the audience, an especially appropriate image.”

For The Times, Tre’vell Anderson spoke to Lipitz and a few of the young women featured in the film about how they hoped the project might change perceptions of the city of Baltimore.

As Tayla Solomon, one of the film’s subjects said, “The next time I tell someone I’m from Baltimore, I want them to ask, ‘Is it really like “Step”?’ ”

At Time, Stephanie Zacharek wrote: “And there is, of course, lots of dancing. The girls’ meticulously choreographed routines are a way for them to find order in their lives, but there’s just pure joy in them too. Realistically, it’s probably not possible to dance your cares away. But the determination of these girls makes you believe in it.”

For Vulture, Emily Yoshida said, “The girls of the Lethal Ladies step team are not on the front lines of the Black Lives Matter movement, but they are profoundly affected by it, and their lives and futures hinge on its central issues: the freedom and opportunity to live their lives free of violence and institutional calamity; to work hard and have it pay off. … There are many films that attempt to illuminate the world through pain, but ‘Step’ is most instructive in its moments of joy.”

Jeremy Renner, left, and Gil Birmingham appear in a scene from “Wind River.”
Jeremy Renner, left, and Gil Birmingham appear in a scene from “Wind River.”
(Fred Hayes / The Weinstein Co.)

‘Wind River’

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Following his celebrated screenplays for “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water,” Taylor Sheridan steps back into directing with the new “Wind River.” Like his other screenplays, the movie is a crime thriller but also much more, with its story of government agents (Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen) investigating an incident on a Native American reservation in Wyoming.

Reviewing for The Times, Kenneth Turan called the film “the most accomplished violent thriller in quite some time,” before adding that “ ‘Wind River’ is not only a deft combination of modern and traditional approaches to the genre, it also demonstrates that when screenwriters who know what they’re doing shoot their own work, they convey a deeper, fuller understanding of what they’ve written than we’d otherwise get.”

Steve Zeitchik spoke to Sheridan, who said of his recent work, “I think film cannot only teleport you to places you don’t know, but it can help you see people you thought were one way and in fact are another. They can allow us to examine ourselves.”

And Amy Kaufman spoke to Elizabeth Olsen about her work both in “Wind River” and the upcoming “Ingrid Goes West” and the difficulties of juggling other work around the demands of her role in the universe of films around “The Avengers”

“There have been things more in line with the career arc I’d like to create that I had to turn down due to scheduling conflicts,” Olsen explained. “You want to create a personal canon.

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

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