Hello! I’m Mark Olsen, and welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.
So the Oscars were a week ago and it feels both like yesterday and a year ago. Despite everything else, the only headline that matters is that “Moonlight” won best picture. Poetic and precise, modest and monumental, the movie is not the kind that is supposed to win best picture. And yet as Times critic Justin Chang wrote, “From here on out, no one will be able to say that movies like ‘Moonlight’ don’t win the Oscar for best picture.”
And while the Oscars may be over, the movies do not stop. The repertory titles coming up in Los Angeles are a showcase of everythat makes the movie scene in the city so exciting. UCLA’s biennial Festival of Preservation is just getting underway and, as always, it is a smart mix of well-known titles in sparkling new presentations and uncovered obscurities given the best possible platform for rediscovery. Taking in films like Ernst Lubitsch’s “Trouble In Paradise,” Kelly Reichardt’s “River of Grass” and Howard Alk’s documentary “The Murder of Fred Hampton,” there is a stunning breadth of work on display, one that lead Times critic Kenneth Turan to call it “the greatest cinematic show on Earth.”
And the New Beverly is kicking off a monthlong celebration of director Frank Perry. (Yes, uncle of singer Katy Perry.) Frank Perry, working early in his career in collaboration with his wife Eleanor Perry, created sharp, alert movies attuned to their times such as “Ladybug, Ladybug,” “Last Summer,” “The Swimmer” and “Diary of a Mad Housewife.” Perry’s 1972 “Play It As It Lays” may still be the definitive adaption of Joan Didion to film – the screenplay is by Didion and her husband John Gregory Dunne — a dissection of L.A.-specific disaffection featuring a lead performance that Times critic Charles Champlin described at the time as “a rather paradoxical spaced-out, lighter-than-air intensity by Tuesday Weld.” The New Bev’s Frank Perry series is a welcome spotlight on a filmmaker who deserves a contemporary reconsideration.
And on Monday we have our screening of “Trainspotting 2” with a Q&A with director Danny Boyle. We also just booked a title for April I am equally excited about. Look for updates at events.latimes.com.
“Logan” is the latest, and supposedly last, outing by Hugh Jackman in the role that made him a star, as the X-Men’s Wolverine. Directed and co-written by James Mangold, the film has an emotionally elegiac quality startling for big-budget superhero movie.
In The Times, Kenneth Turan called the film “as ambitious and aspirational as comic book movies get.” He added that the film “dreams of being something more than the latest notch on the Marvel belt; it wants its stand-alone story of Wolverine and Professor Xavier to be taken seriously as authentic drama. And, to a surprising extent, it succeeds.”
At the New York Times, Manohla Dargis wrote “‘Logan’ is good enough that you might forget it’s a comic-book movie.” Of the lead performance she noted, “Mr. Jackman’s charm can lighten the glummest dirge, but for comic-book agnostics the real appeal is Logan’s reluctance to get involved, an ambivalence that can feel familiar to viewers exhausted by the same fight.”
At MTV, Amy Nicholson wrote, “‘Logan’ is the rare action flick in which the quiet moments are as compelling as any of the fights.”
I spoke to Mangold and Jackman about their character drama where the character just happens to be a superhero for a story publishing soon. As Jackman said to me, “I did not want to compromise on the movie. Our goal was just to make a great movie, and for it not to be defined as a genre piece, for it not be defined by a rating, for it not to be defined by a final chapter, but just to make a great film.”
Having premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and played in Los Angeles as part of last summer’s Next Fest, So-yong Kim’s delicate, powerful ”Lovesong” is finally getting a local theatrical release. The film features a tremendous performance by Riley Keough — between this, “American Honey” and the TV series “The Girlfriend Experience” she has become an undeniable presence — in its story of a longtime friendship between two women that may become something more. The cast also features Jena Malone, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Brooklyn Decker, Amy Seimetz and Rosanna Arquette.
In her review for The Times, Katie Walsh called the movie “a delicately wrought exploration of female friendship and intimacy … casually yet carefully sketched out by Kim in subtle but meaningful gestures and glances.”
At the Village Voice, Melissa Anderson spotlighted Keough’s performance in saying the actress “by calibrating the intensity of her yearning gazes, makes Sarah’s needs and appetites piercingly palpable.”
The Times featured Kim as part of the Diverse 100 series we published last summer, and she was later part of the most recent group of motion picture academy inductees.
‘Before I Fall’
Filmmaker Ry Russo-Young, who has previously made moody, sensual independent films that explore the lives of young women, makes her most mainstream film yet with an adaptation of Lauren Oliver’s popular young adult novel “Before I Fall.” Russo-Young seems to have transitioned to bigger budget, more accessible work while keeping herself fully intact.
The film involves a female high school student (Zoey Deutch) who finds herself caught in a time loop reliving the last day of her life as she learns larger and larger lessons from the actions of herself and others. It transforms the seemingly minor slights and issues of youth into a code key for larger issues of how to live a life.
In his review for The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “[I]t’s without a shred of guilt that I say there is honest pleasure to be found in ‘Before I Fall,’ which takes an unapologetically silly conceit and wrings from it a surprisingly nimble and affecting survey of contemporary teenage attitudes and anxieties.”
At Vulture, Emily Yoshida noted how the film is “giving its young protagonist an opportunity to slow down and expand her perspective on her life and her friends and classmates in ways that ordinary teenagers rarely do. It’s no accident that she’s of the generation where Snapchat and social media are already an ever-present time warp, amplifying the highs and lows and skewing everyone’s sense of each other and themselves.”
The Times’ Amy Kaufman interviewed Deutch, at Art’s Deli in Studio City. Besides dumping out the contents of her handbag for a thorough examination, Deutch gave her thoughts on what she dislikes about the term “It Girl” for up-and-coming actresses like herself.
“There’s a negative connotation for ambition. Because I think it means you’re just willing to work hard for something you want and love. I have no delusions of grandeur of how this goes. I know it’s a really difficult and up-and-down path, so that ‘It’ girl thing just bugs me.”
At Indiewire, Kate Erbland interviewed Russo-Young, who said, “One of things that ‘Before I Fall’ does is it dignifies the teenage experience.” Russo-Young added, “It’s a time when you’re really asking yourself these hard questions of who you are and what your purpose is.I think that is the universality of the story — we should all be conscious of how we treat others.”
Another film that screened at Sundance in 2016 and has sort of sputtered around the festival circuit since is Agnieszka Smoczyńska’s “The Lure.” A Polish horror musical — because really, why not? — the film doesn’t so much enlist viewers as create converts, as its eccentric worldview sends people reeling from the theater and struggling to describe it to friends or on social media.
In his review for The Times, Robert Abele declared “like a retro-disco nightmare after eating too much seafood and watching ‘The Little Mermaid,’ the Polish whatchamacallit ‘The Lure’ is a woozily entrancing mash-up, shimmying by itself in the corner of the horror-musical canon and sure to earn quizzically appreciative stares from genre enthusiasts.”
At the New York Times, A.O. Scott added, “Holding it all together is an exploration — always intriguing if not always coherent — of the myths and puzzles of female sexuality. In this, in its rigorous attention to the expressive possibilities of costume and décor, and in its mixing of knowing allusiveness with earnest feeling, ‘The Lure’ would make an apt companion for Anna Biller’s ‘The Love Witch’ in a feminist genre-scrambling exploitation double feature.”