Indie Focus: Welcome to Indie Focus, and 'Welcome to Me'



Hello again, I'm Mark Olsen. Welcome back to our new weekly movie party!

Though this is technically the second installment of this newsletter, for many of you it may be the first one you are reading. So in the spirit of summer sequels, allow me a quick recap.

This is what I hope will become your regular field guide to cinema in Los Angeles and beyond. The newsletter will spotlight my own work as well as that of my intrepid colleagues on the movies team here at the Los Angeles Times as a starting point for what’s going on in the wild world of cinema. I’ll also be highlighting articles of interest from elsewhere and pointing out noteworthy screenings and film series, podcasts, soundtracks, VOD and home releases. (I am one of those apparently rare people who actually listens to commentary tracks.) If it feels worthy to me, I’ll pass it on to all of you.

This will also serve as headquarters for the Indie Focus Screening Series, a year-round program curated and hosted by me. At least once a month we bring you a new movie before it opens along with a post-screening Q&A with the filmmakers. Past guests have included Robert Redford, Al Pacino, Jill Soloway, Laura Poitras, Justin Simien, Daniel Radcliffe, Octavia Spencer, Olivia Wilde, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and David Chase. The events are free to Los Angeles Times subscribers.

Nonstop movies. Movies nonstop. 


Kristen Wiig as Alice Klieg in the "Welcome to Me." (Suzanne Hanover/Alchemy)

One of my favorite performances of the year so far is Kristen Wiig's in “Welcome to Me,” playing a woman with borderline personality disorder who stops taking her medication right around the time she wins more than $80 million in the lottery. Naturally she spends her money on a talk show dedicated to herself as a living biography. There are moments in which Wiig turns from outrageous to heartbreaking, practically without a breath in between. It is a daring and startling turn.

I wrote about the film ahead of its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall. Director Shira Piven described the film’s special tone then by saying, “I don’t like to call it a comedy. It’s not a comedy-comedy.”

“I had never read anything like it,” Wiig noted. “It was kind of funny and sad, and I like the combination of those two things. It was also a bit scary. I knew when I was reading it that I wanted to do it.”

The film is now playing in limited release and will be soon be expanding nationwide. But don’t just take my word for it, as Times critic Betsy Sharkey also praised the film, calling it “weirdly off center yet strangely in sync with the times."


The long-simmering topic of women in Hollywood and the issue of representation both in front of and behind the camera has recently moved back to the front burner. My colleague Rebecca Keegan has written about this issue extensively, including a recent story that noted how only 4.6% of major studio films were directed by women in 2014. LA Weekly also gave these dispiriting stats a thorough run-through in a recently published story.

Rebecca also talked with stars Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara and director Anne Fletcher about their movie "Hot Pursuit." In the Q&A, Witherspoon noted, "we're not nurturing female directors and writers at the same level that we should be." 

And Susan King took a look at how online distribution platforms such as Fandor are looking to bridge the gap for female filmmakers

In an interview with the Times’ Noelene Clark, “Avengers” star Scarlett Johansson talked about women in the superhero genre.

“For so long, female superheroes have been mistreated, and I think women’s roles in general are often oversimplified and generic and saccharine,” Johansson said. She added that the inclusion of more female characters such as Scarlet Witch played by Elizabeth Olsen is "a step in the right direction.”

"Avengers: Age of Ultron" actresses Elizabeth Olsen and Scarlett Johansson are photographed at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, Calif. on April 11, 2015. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)


“That doesn’t sound very indie,” I can hear you saying. And by pretty much any definition of that extremely elastic concept you would be correct. However, something I always enjoy about a film like “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is the fine level of smart, sharp criticism it inspires.

The Times’  Kenneth Turan noted “the uncomfortable reality remains that although this movie is effective moment to moment, very little of it lingers in the mind afterward. The ideal vehicle for our age of immediate sensation and instant gratification, it disappears without a trace almost as soon as it's consumed.”

Manohla Dargis of The New York Times noted: “The most relevant thing about a movie like this is that its quality is almost entirely irrelevant. It was created to crush the box office, entertainment media and audience resistance, and mission, you know, already accomplished. In an age of lock­step entertainment, pushback isn’t just immaterial; it is also suspect."

And Grantland's Wesley Morris wrote:  “Now, after a dozen more superhero films, a third of which serve as appetizers for this second installment, you start to feel like you’ve eaten too much. This latest, most overwhelming iteration of the Marvel blockbuster began, in 2008, in mutual gluttony: We wanted more superheroes as much as the studio did…. I don’t know when more is going to end.”


Another of my favorite films of the year is “Saint Laurent,” a look at the fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent directed by French provocateur Bertrand Bonello. The film, which opens in Los Angeles on Friday, presents a kaleidoscopic take on Saint Laurent’s life and work and the way in which they intertwined, capturing his world with a tactile sumptuousness and unnerving insight.

Gaspard Ulliel and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi in "Saint Laurent." (Sony Pictures Classics)

The film is in some ways a portrait of creativity as much as a conventional bio-pic. Bonello and his star Gaspard Ulliel appeared at a recent Indie Focus Screening. In the Q&A Bonello said that he wouldn’t want to go to a movie about someone he admired only to realize they are just like him, rather “for me mystery equals desire, and desire equals cinema.”

The Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City is running a Bonello retrospective – someone bring those movies to L.A., please! – and Film Comment magazine just published an in-depth interview with the director.


I suspect that I will be mentioning the Cinefamily, along with the American Cinematheque, the New Beverly Cinema, the UCLA Film and Television Archive and the film programming at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art quite a bit in this space. This is a fantastic moment for repertory/revival screenings in Los Angeles, with something great and often rare playing in town pretty much any night of the week.

From May 8 to 11 the Cinefamily will be presenting a series title “Al Pacino: Theater and Film – An Actor’s Vision” that will specifically spotlight those films which combine Pacino’s love of both stage and screen, including “Chinese Coffee,” “Glengarry Glen Ross,” “Salome,” “Wild Salome,” “Looking For Richard,” “The Merchant of Venice” and “The Local Stigmatic.” Pacino himself will be appearing at some of the events, and for good measure the program will feature a 35mm screening of the operatic “Scarface.”

Email me with questions, concerns, comments or suggestions and follow me on the Twitter @IndieFocus