Indie Focus: Women, men and the moment in ‘Fifty Shades Freed,’ ‘Seeing Allred’ and ‘Permission’


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

This newsletter is, of course, about movies. But it is also often about movie culture in Los Angeles, which means it is, in a way, about Los Angeles. So I wanted to highlight a recent essay by Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne that grappled with the modern city by looking at L.A. and Houston, the country’s fourth-largest city. Ostensibly written in response to a recent New York Times piece on Los Angeles, Hawthorne’s piece is full of insights and ideas about what cities are and what we need them to be.

As he wrote in comparing Houston to Los Angeles, “It’s long been a place people go to reinvent themselves, to get rich or to disappear. The flip side of its great tolerance is a certain lack of cohesion, a difficulty in articulating a set of common civic goals .... As is the case in Los Angeles, the greatest thing and the worst thing about Houston are one and the same: Nobody cares what anybody else is doing. Freedom in both places sometimes trumps community. It also tends to trump stale donor-class taste.”


We’re still marching on through awards season as well. And though things seem a bit quiet right now — this year the season is a touch longer to swerve around the Winter Olympics — there’s still plenty happening. Ahead of the recent Directors Guild Awards, this year’s five nominated directors for feature film — Guillermo del Toro, Greta Gerwig, Jordan Peele, Christopher Nolan and Martin McDonagh — sat down for a nearly three-hour conversation that is a master class in the craft.

At a similar event as part of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival for the five Oscar-nominated directors, Paul Thomas Anderson stopped to give an interview to some middle-school students on the red carpet. It’s nothing short of adorable, of course, but also unexpectedly inspiring, as he gave them uplifting words of encouragement: “Work with your friends, that’s what I say.”

We should have some more screening events and Q&As to announce soon. For updates on future events, go to

‘Fifty Shades Freed’

The “Fifty Shades” films have always been easy to make light of, but also somehow difficult to dismiss. The last film in the trilogy, “Fifty Shades Freed,” brings the series to a conclusion. Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele get married at last, and so their new kink becomes a certain level of domesticity amidst their jet-set lifestyle and unconventional private-time antics. As throughout the series, actress Dakota Johnson brings so much to a part that could require so little, while Jamie Dornan just tries to keep up with her.


In his review for The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “Dreadful though these movies may be, they can also elicit a broader, more complicated range of feelings than a lot of ostensibly better, more respectable movies manage. Which is another reason why giggling, a conveniently noncommittal, all-encompassing response, comes in handy. A giggle can express delight as well as disdain, agony as well as ecstasy, which makes it an especially fitting way to engage with Christian, Anastasia and their tortured dialectic of pain versus pleasure.”

At Time magazine, Stephanie Zacharek placed the new film within the context of the cultural moment, writing, “It’s easier to laugh at these deliriously popular ‘Fifty Shades’ books and movies than to tangle with what’s actually in them and with what they might mean to an audience. Plus, in the midst of our roaring cultural conversation about sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace, the elusive intricacy of what makes women tick is probably the last subject any of us wants to talk about. Which is exactly why now is the time to talk about it.”

(And I particularly liked this bit from Zacharek’s review on costume as character: “Tellingly, her going-away outfit, a sleek eggshell pantsuit, is more impressive than her ho-hum-pretty wedding dress. A wedding dress is a goal, an end in itself, but a pantsuit is the future: it’s what a woman wears when she’s going places.”)

For Variety, Amy Nicholson wrote about how the current moment can be seen to even have transformed the series, noting “Today, the key point in the ‘Fifty Shades’ flicks isn’t titillation — it’s consent. For all the eye-rolling that E.L. James’ hugely popular novels were a paean to old-fashioned romances where a girl married a man who took care of all of her needs, from new cellphones and laptops to a trip in his private plane, they’re strikingly modern in their insistence on hearing a woman say yes or no.”

For New York magazine’s, Emily Yoshida said, “This is a trilogy about a charming, intelligent young woman with just the right amount of self-awareness and sense of humor about herself, who happens to have a twisted kink for monogamy with the most boring man in the world. It might be one of the most cathartic depictions of modern romance currently in business.”


‘Seeing Allred’

Attorney Gloria Allred is a longtime media presence known for her news conferences and her longstanding championing of women’s rights. As her profile has risen even higher through her work representing the accusers of Bill Cosby and on into the current #MeToo movement, she has personally remained someone enigmatic. The new documentary “Seeing Allred,” directed by Sophie Sartain and Roberta Grossman, explores Allred as a person and how her own story led her to her fierce commitment to her work.

Kenneth Turan reviewed the film for The Times, calling it “a sympathetic, admiring portrait.” He added, “For Allred herself, everything feels irrelevant in the face of the demands of her ongoing battle. ‘The fight has just begun’ is the last thing she says on camera, and there can be no doubt that she means it.”

The Times’ Amy Kaufman spoke with Allred for a story that will be publishing early this week.

Reviewing the film for the Wrap, April Wolfe added, “If you’d only ever seen Allred at those press conferences, you might read her as an opportunist. Grossman and Sartain found no shortage of media personalities over the years stating that as fact .… But as the directors dive into Allred’s historical reasoning for holding press conferences, we see a fuller picture of the woman and the necessity for airing grievances in public.”

At Marie Claire, Esther Zuckerman took a look at Allred’s evolving image. As Sartain said, “Time and time again she seemed to be ahead of her time, so it’s really gratifying for us as filmmakers to feel like the world is finally catching up to Gloria.”


And recently Allred, Sartain and Grossman and executive producer Marta Kauffman stopped by the L.A. Times studio at the Sundance Film Festival to talk about the film.


Rebecca Hall has become one of the most consistently inventive and watchable actresses in movies today, and the new romantic dramedy “Permission” finds her taking on the role of producer for the first time too. Written and directed by Brian Crano, the film explores what happens when a couple (Hall and Dan Stevens) who have settled into a comfortable, routine life together impulsively decide to have an open relationship.

Reviewing the movie for The Times, Kimber Myers wrote, “‘Permission’ asks difficult questions and doesn’t offer easy answers. But while it deals with heavy relationship issues including the validity of monogamy, it manages an easy, seemingly effortless humor that seduces the audience while simultaneously breaking filmgoers’ hearts.”

At Sheila O’Malley wrote, “Crano’s film is refreshingly complex and filled with the unexpected. Every character emerges in some way as three-dimensional. Nobody’s a ‘type.’ What is most unexpected about ‘Permission’ is its sense of poignancy and tenderness. In its own way, it’s quite heartbreaking.”

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