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Indie Focus: Looking ahead with Holiday Sneaks, 'Lady Bird', 'Last Flag Flying,' and 'BPM'

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

The Los Angeles Times Holiday Movies Sneaks came out this week, and once again it is just packed with stories on the essential upcoming movies. Last year, I visited the set of Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” and interviewed actor Doug Jones while he was in full half-man, half-fish costume. “Any role that I do under crazy makeup is a role like any other you have to play," Jones said. "That emotional state has to come through those layers of makeup.”

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Tre’vell Anderson spoke to “Mudbound” filmmaker Dee Rees for a story that includes deeply moving images from her family history from a journal kept by Rees’ grandmother. The film is set in the South before and after World War II. As Rees put it. “This is a period that gets skipped over. We go straight from slavery to Civil Rights. I wanted to explore what’s in there.”

Josh Rottenberg wrote about creating the future tech world of “Justice League.”

Jen Yamato talked to “Downsizing” star Hong Chau.

Amy Kaufman interviewed “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” star Sam Rockwell.

Geoff Berkshire spoke to “I, Tonya” screenwriter Steven Rogers.

And I had been planning to include something on the movie “Thor: Ragnarok,” seeing as it is was directed by Taika Waititi and co-stars Tessa Thompson, both fresh talents we have talked about here before. But, per a note in the paper on Friday, “Walt Disney Co. studios declined to screen the movie for The Times’ critics, citing what it called unfair coverage of its business ties to the city of Anaheim.” A similar note ran as part of the Holiday Sneaks.

We’ve got a screening coming up on Monday, Nov. 13, with one of the my favorite films of the year, Ruben Östlund’s “The Square.” We’ll have the film’s star, Danish actor Claes Bang, there for a Q&A after the movie. Keep an eye on this space for updates on future events, or go to events.latimes.com.

Saoirse Ronan, left, and Beanie Feldstein in "Lady Bird."
Saoirse Ronan, left, and Beanie Feldstein in "Lady Bird." (A24)

‘Lady Bird’

Since emerging from the independent micro-budget filmmaking scene, Greta Gerwig has always shown herself to be a multifaceted talent and she has now made her solo debut as writer and director with the emotionally nuanced, understated knockout of ”Lady Bird.” The film is about a teenage girl (Saoirse Ronan) coming to realize she likes the place she’s from, Sacramento, and that she deeply loves and appreciates her mother. That role is taken on in a powerful performance by Laurie Metcalf, a name you will be likely be hearing a lot of in the coming months.

In his review for The Times, Kenneth Turan called the film “As warm as it is smart” before adding that it is “an elegantly empathetic portrait of a teenage girl's senior year in high school that will resonate even with those (no names) who feel they've seen enough teen-centric movies to last multiple lifetimes.”

Josh Rottenberg sat down with Metcalf and co-star Tracy Letts, who have known each other for nearly 30 years but had never worked together before. “Nobody believes it but it’s true,” Letts said.

For Time, Stephanie Zacharek noted, “There are tons of movies about coming of age in the suburbs, but few are as astute as ‘Lady Bird’ when it comes to class. Even so, the movie — set in Sacramento circa 2002 — is more universal than it is insular.”

For the Associated Press, Lindsey Bahr said, “Gerwig has arrived and solidified her place as one of the most invigorating, observant and authentic voices in movies today with a director’s acumen to match .… There are a lot of things rotting right now in the world and in Hollywood, and, basically, we should be especially grateful when something as lovely as ‘Lady Bird’ comes along.”

Bryan Cranston, from left, Laurence Fishburne and Steve Carell in "Last Flag Flying."
Bryan Cranston, from left, Laurence Fishburne and Steve Carell in "Last Flag Flying." (Wilson Webb / Amazon Studios/Lionsgate)

‘Last Flag Flying’

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Richard Linklater has long been one of the most essential American filmmakers and the new ”Last Flag Flying” finds him continuing down his recent path of unforced wisdom and maturity. The film follows three men who were war buddies in Vietnam (Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne) as they go together to retrieve the remains of Carell’s character’s son, killed in combat in Iraq.

In his Times review, Justin Chang called the film “warm, ribald and elegiac” while adding, “it joins a solid company of timeless American movies — a partial list would include ‘Flags of Our Fathers,’ ‘The Messenger’ and a handful of classic Vietnam War epics — that have saluted the courage of our troops while casting a hard, ambivalent eye on the government machinery that sends them into battle.”

At the New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote, “Richard Linklater is one of the great listeners in American movies .… The content of the conversations is important, but so are the more subtle kinds of information that human speech conveys: the unstated emotions and idiosyncrasies of character that flow alongside and underneath the words.”

At the Village Voice, Bilge Ebiri was less taken with the film, noting that it’s “a tribute to simple people” that also “merely hints at the idea without engaging with it, bracketing a couple of stirring scenes with a lot of wan filler. ‘Last Flag Flying’ is not a bad movie per se. It’s just not much of a movie at all.”

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Arnaud Valois in "BPM (Beats Per Minute)."
Arnaud Valois in "BPM (Beats Per Minute)." (The Orchard.)

‘BPM (Beats Per Minute)’

The French submission for the foreign language Academy Award and winner of the second-place Grand Prix prize at Cannes earlier this year, Robin Camillo’s ”BPM (Beats Per Minute)” tells a story set amidst the group ACT UP against the backdrop of HIV/AIDS activism in Paris in the early 1990s. The movie stars Arnaud Valois and also features rising young actress Adèle Haenel in a supporting role.

In is review for The Times, Justin Chang called the film “a sprawling, passionate tribute to the power of organized protest, one that derives its authenticity from not only moments of fierce, confrontational action, but also extended elaborations of policy and procedure.”

Nicolas Rapold interviewed Campillo for Film Comment. The filmmaker said, “For the beginning of the film, I wanted a contrast between all of these people talking about things they have to do, actions they have to imagine .… It was like you were in the brain of a body, and people were talking and thinking of actions, slogans, all those things.”

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

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