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Indie Focus: Rom-com revival continues with ‘Long Shot’

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

May has turned into a bounty of riches for the Los Angeles repertory screening scene.

The New Beverly is spotlighting female filmmakers all month, playing movies by Dorothy Arzner, Kathryn Bigelow, Elaine May, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Claudia Weill, Sofia Coppola, Kasi Lemmons, Anna Biller, Joan Micklin Silver, Barbra Streisand and more.

The American Cinematheque is featuring a series of unique double features, pairing films directed by Martin Scorsese and John Cassavetes.

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The exciting new series known as Projections will be screening Fritz Lang’s 1929 “Woman in the Moon” along with a hand-tinted print of Georges Méliès’s 1902 “A Trip to the Moon” on May 12.

LACMA will be hosting a never-to-be-repeated event on May 23 in its Bing Theater, currently scheduled for demolition, when it screens the rare Cannes cut of Richard Kelly’s “Southland Tales,” followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker. Once seen as outlandish satire, the film now feels more and more like a prophecy.

We have some exciting screening and Q&A events of our own lining up for the summer. For info and updates, go to events.latimes.com.

This image released by Lionsgate shows Seth Rogen, left, and Charlize Theron in a scene from “Long S
Seth Rogen, left, and Charlize Theron in a scene from "Long Shot."
(Philippe Bossé/Lionsgate)

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‘Long Shot’

In the delightful, sharp rom-com “Long Shot,” Charlize Theron plays a U.S. secretary of State preparing for a run for the presidency. As her speechwriter she hires a muckraking journalist played by Seth Rogen. However unlikely from the outset, soon sparks fly.

In his review for The Times, Justin Chang wrote: “This may be escapist entertainment, but it also has a hint of steel. As another election cycle gets underway, it’s hard not to look at Charlotte and think of the other supremely qualified women who have had to turn on the charm and check their ambitions, lest they be deemed (horror of horrors) insufficiently likable by the press and the public. As it happens, “Long Shot,” directed by Jonathan Levine from a script by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah, is the most likable Hollywood romantic comedy I’ve seen in ages and, not coincidentally, the most ambitious.”

I spoke to Rogen, Theron, Levine, Sterling and Hannah for a story on how the project brought together Rogen and Theron not just as stars but as creative producers as well.

“Very rarely do this amount of people — his producing partners, my producing partners — this many people come together in a room and are so like-minded,” said Theron. “Not in the boring sense of not challenging each other, but where we really truly wanted to make the same movie. I think that’s sometimes the biggest struggle to overcome.... You’re looking at the other person, and the problem is we are not making the same movie here. And we never had that problem.”

For the New York Times, Manohla Dargis wrote: “Theron, a natural screen presence who has developed into an undeniable one, is wonderful in ‘Long Shot.’ She’s a fascinating performer with a watchfulness that can make her seem detached. She seems supremely and confidently alone onscreen, which in moments can create an internal tension with her physical superfluidity, her outward, inviting flow.”

For Time, Stephanie Zacharek wrote of Theron: “She’s a marvelous comic actor, as at home with bawdy humor as with the brainier kind, and her timing has its own rare and specific style: her lines tend to tilt sideways, with the quiet finesse of a balsa-wood glider, before coming in for a soft but neat landing. She’s an elegant goofball, funny in an over-the-shoulder way, not an in-your-face way, and every moment spent watching her is a pleasure. Hail to the chief.”

At Slate, Inkoo Kang wrote, “The movie doesn’t get all its gender dynamics right, and an out-of-nowhere call for bipartisan cooperation feels like a ham-fisted insertion by a nervous studio exec. But all the way up to its own version of a happy ending, it’s a fresh, timely spin on the rom-com formula, the next step forward after the feminist strides in Rogen’s ‘Neighbors’ movies and a possible new path for dude comedies that are no longer content to pretend that women don’t have our own stuff going on.”

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For the AP, Lindsey Bahr wrote, “The film has a lot of fun playing with the ridiculous double standards of being a woman in politics, with a silly Fox News parody that’s often on in the background. And Theron herself gets to cut loose in a refreshing way, showing her brilliant comedic timing and aptitude for throwing a perfectly cutting barb.”

Senator Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a scene from “Knock Down the House.” Credit: Netflix
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a scene from "Knock Down the House."
(Netflix)

‘Knock Down The House’

Directed by Rachel Lears, “Knock Down The House” follows four first-time candidates running for Congress in the 2018 midterm elections. One of them happened to be Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, providing a front row seat to the origin story of what has become one of the most talked-about names in current politics.

In his review for The Times, Kenneth Turan wrote, “It also becomes clear that the factors that led to AOC’s upset victory are the same ones that make her the inevitable focus of a film that is nominally a group portrait…. Smart, impassioned and candid, with the grace of always being herself, she dominates this film just as she ended up dominating incumbent Joseph Crowley — who looks like he never knew what hit him despite being a veteran pol with 20 years in Congress.”

At Vox, Alissa Wilkinson wrote, “‘Knock Down the House’ is obviously a liberal, feel-good movie. But it sounds a broad note of hope: It’s not just blowhard billionaires with media expertise who have a chance to represent ‘real America.’ Plain old shoe-leather canvassing and showing up in your community can make a real difference.”

At the Wrap, Tomris Laffly said, “Not unlike the candidates it portrays, ‘Knock Down The House’ puts in the necessary work towards a payoff that earns both cheers and tears.”

PARK CITY, UTAH -- JANUARY 26, 2019 -- Subject Ruth Westheimer, from the documentary, “Ask Dr. Ruth,
Dr. Ruth Westheimer, from the documentary, "Ask Dr. Ruth," photographed at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
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‘Ask Dr. Ruth’

Directed by Ryan White, “Ask Dr. Ruth” is an affectionate portrait of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the now-90-year-old sex therapist and educator who shot to fame in the 1980s.

In his review for The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “With its irrepressible 90-year-old dynamo of a subject, ‘Ask Dr. Ruth’ has no such distance to work with and no interest in establishing any…. The film unabashedly adores Westheimer and assumes that we will follow suit. It’s not entirely wrong on that score, even if it’s much too content to coast on its subject’s outsized charms.”

When the documentary premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, Amy Kaufman interviewed Westheimer, who took the opportunity to begin campaigning for an Oscar. As producer Rafael Marmor said of her relentlessly upbeat attitude, “She gives everything such a positive spin. We’ll sit down at a restaurant and she’ll say: ‘This is amazing! Fantastic! Delicious!’ Every driver she has is the best driver, and she’ll tell the driver how fantastic the drive was.”

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

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