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Indie Focus: New views in 'Destroyer,' 'Stan & Ollie' and 'All Is True'

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

This is our last newsletter of 2018, so I want to take a moment to give special thanks the LA Times Events team, who make our regular Indie Focus Screening Series happen. They are the ones who send the emails, make the phone calls, show up early, stay late and really make things run.

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This year may have been the best one yet for the screening series, with an exciting and diverse array of films and guests. Among those stopping by to talk about their work this year were Gus Van Sant, Natalie Portman, Chloé Zhao, Andrew Bujalski, Shayna MacHale, Crystal Mozelle, Meg Wolitzer, Eugene Jarecki, Brett Haley, Nick Offerman, Ike Barinholtz, Bing Liu, Aaron Katz, Anya Taylor-Joy, Olivia Cooke, Emily Mortimer, Rupert Everett, Reinaldo Marcus Green, Eva Vives, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Jason Reitman.

For information on upcoming events as part of our Envelope Live series, go to events.latimes.com/screenings. We’ll have new screening and Q&A events of our own soon. For info and updates on future Indie Focus screenings, go to events.latimes.com.

Nicole Kidman stars as hard-boiled detective Erin Bell in Karyn Kusama's "Destroyer."
Nicole Kidman stars as hard-boiled detective Erin Bell in Karyn Kusama's "Destroyer." (Annapurna Pictures)

‘Destroyer’

Directed by Karyn Kusama from a script by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, “Destroyer” is an L.A.-noir crime story in which the hard-boiled detective is played by Nicole Kidman. Years after an undercover operation went very wrong, a detective (Kidman) may finally be able to make peace with her past. The cast also features Sebastian Stan, Tatiana Maslany, Toby Kebbell, Scoot McNairy and Bradley Whitford.

Reviewing the film for The Times, Kenneth Turan wrote, “ ‘Destroyer’ is simultaneously impressive and stand-offish. Persuasively directed by Kusama and convincingly acted by Kidman and expert costars like Toby Kebbell and Sebastian Stan though it is, its determination to live exclusively at the darkest end of the street pays disagreeable dividends…. Even while you admire the skill that went into ‘Destroyer,’ saying you relished time spent with its bleak and unscrupulous characters is something else.”

Jen Yamato spoke to Kusama about the movie and its essential gender switch in the lead role. As Kusama said, “There was something that just felt vibrant and different to see a woman carry that burden, and be such a mess in a way that I don’t necessarily understand those characters when they’re male… She never addresses that she’s female; she just is. But it makes it more interesting to see in this story, I think, because women have as much of a thorny underbelly to explore.”

Glenn Whipp spoke to Kidman. Besides “Destroyer,” she is on a remarkable run of projects that also includes “Boy Erased,” “Aquaman,”and the upcoming second season of “Big Little Lies.” So it is surprising to hear Kidman talk about how she almost quit acting a few years ago after a string of poorly received movies.

“It’s probably not great to talk about when you’re old, but you start out as flavor of the month and then you’re not; you have some things that work and some that don’t, and suddenly no one’s interested,” Kidman says. “Then it’s, ‘You’ve squandered or lost your talent.’ And that’s not true. It’s always there if you’re nourishing it. And that’s what I was doing. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t frustrating.”

Reviewing the movie for the New York Times, Manohla Dargis wrote, “part of what’s pleasurable about ‘Destroyer’ is that Kusama doesn’t try to turn the movie into a finger-wagging lesson about gender. Instead, she embraces genre and sprinkles in her influences… Kusama is still figuring out how to balance form and pulp, but she has a singular unapologetic idea about what women can and cannot do onscreen, one she lets rip with verve and her superbly unbound star.”

At Vulture, Bilge Ebiri wrote, “ ‘Destroyer’ is a fragmented film, which will exasperate some. And there’s something fundamentally unrealistic, dreamlike about Erin’s encounters in the present day. Everybody has changed, and yet they all still seem haunted by what happened way back when.”

John C. Reilly as Oliver Hardy, from left, Shirley Henderson as Lucille Hardy, Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel and Nina Arianda as Ida Laurel in a scene from the movie "Stan and Ollie."
John C. Reilly as Oliver Hardy, from left, Shirley Henderson as Lucille Hardy, Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel and Nina Arianda as Ida Laurel in a scene from the movie "Stan and Ollie." (Nick Wall / Sony Pictures Classics)

‘Stan & Ollie’

Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly play the classic film comedy duo of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in “Stan & Ollie,” a look a theatrical tour of the U.K. they embarked upon at the end of their careers together. Directed by Jon S. Baird from a script by Jeff Pope, the movie is a moving examination of friendship, fame and the distinctions between work life and private life for public figures. Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda also appear as their wives, Lucille Hardy and Ida Laurel, respectively.

Gary Goldstein reviewed the film for The Times. He said, “Not enough can be said about Reilly and Coogan’s astonishingly good performances, as they channel their famed characters with a perfect mix of affection, pluck, savvy and bittersweet emotion, as well as terrific comic timing and vocal mimcry. Reilly is particularly poignant as he soldiers through the rotund Hardy’s worsening health.”

Susan King spoke to Baird, Reilly, Coogan and Pope. As Baird said of the off-stage relationship between Laurel and Hardy, “It definitely seems like they didn’t know how much they were friends and how much they did care for each other when they went on this tour because they had to really rely on each other and be with each other day in and day out.”

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Reviewing the movie for the New York Times, Jason Zinoman said, “Most movies about comedians present them as harsh and brooding collectors of neuroses, but Coogan and Reilly even at their most contentious present Laurel and Hardy as gentle, flawed figures.”

Lindsey Bahr reviewed the movie for the AP, saying that even amidst the late-year crush of new releases, “I’m here to tell you not to sleep on ‘Stan & Ollie.’ It is simply terrific — an understated but smartly told crowd-pleaser about the legendary comedy duo in their last act, with wonderful production value, a sharp and surprisingly poignant script and brilliant performances.”

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Jack Colgrave Hirst as Tom Quiney, from left, Kathryn Wilder as Judith Shakespeare, Kenneth Branagh as William Shakespeare, Judi Dench as Anne Shakespeare, Clara Duczmal as Elizabeth Hall and Lydia Wilson as Susanna Hall in a scene from the movie "All Is True."
Jack Colgrave Hirst as Tom Quiney, from left, Kathryn Wilder as Judith Shakespeare, Kenneth Branagh as William Shakespeare, Judi Dench as Anne Shakespeare, Clara Duczmal as Elizabeth Hall and Lydia Wilson as Susanna Hall in a scene from the movie "All Is True." (Sony Pictures Classics)

‘All Is True’

Having become known for his movie adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, with “All Is True,” Kenneth Branagh turns to playing William Shakespeare himself in the last years of his life. Having returned to Stratford-Upon-Avon after a fire burns down the Globe Theatre in London, he becomes embroiled in a series of family dramas. The movie also star Judi Dench as Shakespeare’s wife, Anne, and Ian McKellan as the Earl of Southhampton. “All Is True” received an end-of-year qualifying run for 2018 and will be the opening night film for the upcoming Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Robert Abele reviewed the movie for the Times, noting that, “If the goal was to bring a genius to earth, to celebrate the recognizably human in humanity’s richest chronicler, then the decorousness of movies is as unnecessary as it was pre-cinema, when Shakespeare’s words and stories needed little but the generosity of great acting in a welcome room. Watching Branagh and McKellen in gently dueling versions of Sonnet 29 provides that pleasure; the rest of ‘All Is True,’ unfortunately, strains to honor its beloved subject.”

For Entertainment Weekly, Dana Schwartz added, “There is a beautiful, surprising, and entirely engrossing film within this movie; it’s just almost impossible to find among the establishing shots of ponds and endless subplots of real-life characters introduced for seemingly no other reason than to help make this movie perfect for sophomore year high school classes.”

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

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