Indie Focus: Pushing boundaries with ‘Glass,’ ‘Fyre’ docs and ‘La Religeuse’
Hello! I’m Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.
The Academy Award nominations come out this Tuesday, so get ready. Our movies team will be up far too early to report the news, talk to some nominees and generally bring you everything you need to know about the second biggest day in Oscar season. In preparation, Times awards columnist Glenn Whipp made his predictions for all 24 categories.
It is a sad fact that there will probably be no women nominated in the category of best director. This is, of course, an issue that has long dogged the movie industry, and an upcoming series at the UCLA Film and Television Archive will examine some of the history behind women filmmakers in Hollywood. Beginning on Friday (Jan. 25), “Liberating Hollywood” will feature eight female directors working in the 1970s, including Elaine May, Joan Tewkesbury, Lynne Littman, Joan Micklin Silver and others. This series is very exciting and I will be publishing a story on it soon.
We’ll have our first Indie Focus Screening Series event of the new year coming up in early February. And more on the way. For info and updates, go to events.latimes.com.
From writer-director M. Night Shyamalan, “Glass” is an unusual and somewhat unexpected sequel to his films “Unbreakable” and “Split.” The film stars Samuel L. Jackson, James McAvoy and Bruce Willis as three men all institutionalized in the same facility who have superhuman powers that makes them supervillains in the making. Anya Taylor-Joy reprises her role from “Split” and Sarah Paulson appears as a doctor specializing in patients with delusions of grandeur.
In his review for The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “Shyamalan has one or two decent shocks in store — one suspense sequence is so precisely choreographed it takes your breath away — but well before the end, it is hard to shake the feeling that he’s still falling back on the usual spiritual-sentimental hokum, the same entreaty to believe for belief’s sake. Whether you see this ‘Glass’ as half-empty or half-full, there’s no mistaking it for the work of any other filmmaker (especially since no other filmmaker would allow Shyamalan to make another of his patented pointless cameos). It’s the work of a filmmaker who, no less than the genre he’s trying to reimagine, feels stuck on repeat.”
Jen Yamato interviewed Shyamalan, Jackson and Paulson. As Shyamalan said of his unlikely franchise, “So many things had to go right that had nothing to do with me that had to fall into place .… When I look back on this trilogy and this movie there’s a sense of, ‘Wow — it was kind of meant to be.’”
For the New York Times, Manohla Dargis called the film “an enjoyable new whatsit,” while adding, “In time, the air of misterioso quiet and encroaching, consuming terror give way to manly growling, jaw-clenching and vein-popping, and everything falls to pieces in a poorly conceptualized and staged blowout .… Shyamalan needed a few more years between this movie and the last to work out the kinks, and maybe a screenwriting partner who could help him separate his A material from his B, C and D ideas. He certainly needs help with his female characters, a lineup of clichés that are never as touching or as witty as he thinks. He’s still playing with genre but not nearly enough, and no amount of self-reflexive winking and meta-patter about comics makes it better.”
At Vanity Fair, Richard Lawson wrote, “Shyamalan ultimately upends our expectation, our rote appetite, for a huge C.G.I. melee. I like that temerity, the one that keeps the film so zeroed-in on these characters and their struggle for their own mythos. There’s probably something a bit autobiographical in there, Shyamalan insisting that his modest scale is plenty. It gives ‘Glass’ a tinge of the quaint, a refreshing sensation after all these years of maximalism. The movie is still pretty silly, of course, but its sins — its fussiness, its preening pretension — are more forgivable than, say, ‘Suicide Squad’s’ useless nihilism, or ‘Deadpool’s’ acrid smugness.”
‘Fyre’ and ‘Fyre Fraud’
It was a moment that will live in social media infamy, as in 2017 the Fyre Festival that was meant to be a luxurious, decadent music festival turned into a disaster for all involved. Now the competing documentaries “Fyre,” on Netflix and directed by Chris Smith, and “Fyre Fraud,” on Hulu and directed by Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby, each dissects how charismatic promoter Billy McFarland set in motion the series of events that would ultimately land him in prison.
For The Times, Kenneth Turan reviewed Smith’s “Fyre,” noting, “Everyone spoken with tries to grapple with the question of why it all happened, why an event that seemed so hip, new and cutting edge down to the heady presence of influencers and supermodels crashed and burned so completely .… The answer seems to be a venerable one: As long as human beings are gullible, there will always be individuals able to take advantage of them. To put it in terms W.C. Fields could understand, there’s a sucker born every minute.”
Amy Kaufman dug into the unusual circumstances that led to two documentaries on the same subject coming out so close to each other. She also highlights what makes each film distinct. As Smith said of his surprisingly humane portrait of many of those behind the scenes, “I think the thing that surprised me most is how much I liked and cared for the people that I met that got wrapped up in this. Going into it, I was worried that it was going to be a movie about bad people doing bad things. And in the end, I found quite the opposite.”
Times pop music critic Mikael Wood used the docs to examine the current state of music festivals. As he wrote, “‘Fyre’ and ‘Fyre Fraud’ make something else clear too, and that’s how insignificant music was to this music festival .… And that’s because McFarland wasn’t selling music; he marketed Fyre not as a place to watch bands but as a place to rub elbows with models and take glamorous pictures to post on social media. The performances were there merely to provide some structure — to give a name to the thing for which people traveled to Great Exuma.”
At the New York Times, Wesley Morris wrote about the two films together as well, saying, “[W]hen people in both Fyre movies say that they’re positive McFarland will strike again, what’s in order is the deeper, more cautionary examination of him that’s in ‘Fyre Fraud.’ Not because that prediction is wrong. But because I wouldn’t put anything past this country. McFarland really might have another act. Maybe as a con artist. Maybe as someone more, I don’t know, elected.”
Long best known for the attempts by religious groups to block its initial release in France, the 1966 film “La Religieuse” (The Nun) is now being released in the U.S. in a dazzling new 4K restoration. Directed by Jacques Rivette, who would go on to be a hardcore cinephile favorite with films such as 1974’s “Celine and Julie Go Boating,” the film stars Anna Karina as a young woman forced into a Catholic convent against her will.
For The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “[T]here is nothing minor about this movie, and nothing particularly aberrant: In its sculptural compositions and meticulous choreography of bodies through space, it has a recognizably Rivettian formal beauty. Certainly there is no better time than the present to appreciate it anew .… Its portrait of totalitarian authority and the reckless abuse of clerical power is as scaldingly resonant now as it ever was.”
For the New York Times, J. Hoberman wrote, “‘La Religieuse’ is not so much anticlerical as it is anti-authoritarian. The movie’s real subject is the nature of social control, the totalitarian demand for unquestioning obedience and the capricious application of power — a theme that may have inspired and was only reinforced by its arbitrary censorship.”
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