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Indie Focus: Big decisions in 'Private Life,' 'The Hate U Give' and 'A Star Is Born'

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

This has been quite a week, one in which the movies can help to escape, if that’s what you’re after, but also to focus upon and make sense of what’s happening in the world outside the theater. Among this week’s new releases is the big-budget comic book adaptation “Venom.” Jen Yamato spoke to Tom Hardy and Riz Ahmed, unquestionably two of the most exciting actors in movies today, about their roles in the film.

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Both have moved easily between smaller projects and full-scale franchise roles. As Ahmed said of the pull toward superhero stories, “I think we’re quite deep into quite a dark century now at this point, and the superhero genre is starting to evolve as well — confronting the realization that it’s not necessarily someone in a cape who’s going to save us and that we need to learn to live pragmatically in a world that’s full of moral compromises.”

This Wednesday we’ll have a screening of “The Oath,” followed by a Q&A with the film’s writer, director and star Ike Barinholtz. The movie is a satirical comedy about feeling overloaded and emotionally frazzled by current events. (Sound familiar?) For info and updates on future screenings, go to events.latimes.com.

Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn in a scene from "Private Life."
Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn in a scene from "Private Life." (Jojo Whilden / Neflix)

‘Private Life’

It has been 11 years since Tamara Jenkins’ previous film, the Oscar-nominated “The Savages,” which is reason enough to be excited for her new “Private Life.” Then it turns out to be pretty close to perfect, a tender, knowingly intimate look at a couple who desperately want to have a child and face all manner of complications in trying to make that happen. Starring Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti in performances that are heart-wrenchingly emotional and needle-sharp funny, the film is in limited theatrical release and streaming via Netflix.

In his review for The Times, Justin Chang noted, “Even as Jenkins brings out the angst, her inner comic strategist remains hard at work, building sly jokes into the edge of the frame; she has a talent for rendering comedy and tragedy virtually indistinguishable. It’s become a cliché to praise a filmmaker for loving their characters, but Jenkins’ affection is overpowering.”

I recently sat down for an extended interview with Kathryn Hahn that will be publishing soon. I also spoke to Jenkins back before the film first premiered earlier this year at Sundance. As she said then, “ "I mean, it's called 'Private Life,' so you're seeing things we don't necessarily see. I've certainly never seen this movie."

At the New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote, “Though it is poignant and funny in nearly equal measure, the most remarkable aspect of ‘Private Life’ may be its lack of noticeable exaggeration. Ms. Jenkins is working at the scale of life, with the confidence that the ordinary, if viewed from the right angle, will provide enough drama and humor to sustain our interest.”

For Slate, Inkoo Kang added, “Because Jenkins doesn’t endow Rachel and Richard’s desire for children with any sort of higher purpose, we’re simply asked to observe what that all-consuming aspiration does to their relationships, especially their marriage. … The film increasingly makes us wonder whether they should have kids at all, while continuing to empathize with their feelings of bereftness.”

Russell Hornsby, from left, Regina Hall, Amandla Stenberg and Common in "The Hate U Give."
Russell Hornsby, from left, Regina Hall, Amandla Stenberg and Common in "The Hate U Give." (Erika Doss / 20th Century Fox)

‘The Hate U Give’

Adapted from the bestselling young adult novel by Angie Thomas and directed by George Tilman Jr., “The Hate U Give” is the dramatic story of a young woman named Starr (Amandla Stenberg) who is witness to the police shooting of her unarmed friend and faces decisions of what her responsibilities are to her community and herself. The cast also features Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, Issa Rae, Common and Anthony Mackie. (And in a heart-breaking twist, the film’s screenwriter, Audrey Wells, died this week.)

In his review for The Times, Kenneth Turan wrote “Young Adult novels are the hottest thing in publishing, and not necessarily because teens love to read. Fully grown adults are drawn in as well because the genre at its best can make difficult issues accessible without sacrificing honesty, emotion and truth. … Which is why, its high school setting notwithstanding, the film version of ‘The Hate U Give’ is a moving, emotionally convincing experience.”

Tre’vell Anderson interviewed Hornsby, who portrays Starr’s father, Maverick. Of the way in which the film tries to capture the pulse of the moment he said, “I look at it, honestly — and I could be off or wrong — as this generation’s ‘Boyz N the Hood,’ which helped define my generation. We learned about aspects of our community, about aspects of our society, about aspects of blackness and life at that time from ‘Boyz N the Hood.’ ”

Writing for Teen Vogue, Candice Frederick added, “Rising out of a space of being policed at home, at school, and on the streets, Starr carves out an identity of her own where she is no longer confined to the prison of silence and complacency. In fact, she’s found a sense of freedom in being a voice for a young black generation — even those that are long gone.”

At Vulture, Emily Yoshida wrote, “Yes, it’s a teen melodrama, but it’s also an elegantly constructed piece of world-building, a love story, a family history, a sociological spiderweb of cause and effect of the hate referenced in the Tupac-coined titled. If this is what the next wave of YA adaptation will feel like, we are in a good place.”

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Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in a scene from the movie "A Star Is Born."
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in a scene from the movie "A Star Is Born." (Clay Enos / Warner Bros. Pictures)

‘A Star Is Born’

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For his directing debut, Bradley Cooper takes on one of the most-told, deeply ingrained stories of Hollywood history, the saga of fame and love and addiction and self-realization that is “A Star Is Born.” Cooper also plays musician Jackson Maine, who discovers a young woman named Ally (Lady Gaga) and sets her toward stardom. The movie arrives on an overwhelming wave of hype and expectations, with awards-season glory almost certainly in its trajectory.

In his review for The Times, Kenneth Turan wrote, “Aside from the incandescent, white-hot performances by stars Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, the best thing about this film is how unreservedly it embraces and enhances its old school Hollywood legacy.”

For the New York Times, Manohla Dargis wrote “‘A Star Is Born’ is such a great Hollywood myth that it’s no wonder Hollywood keeps telling it… This latest and fourth version is a gorgeous heartbreaker (bring tissues). Like its finest antecedents, it wrings tears from its romance and thrills from a steadfast belief in old-fashioned, big-feeling cinema. That it’s also a perverse fantasy about men, women, love and sacrifice makes it all the better.”

At Buzzfeed, Alison Willmore grappled with the film’s relationship to fame and authenticity, noting “Every iteration of ‘A Star Is Born’ is informed by the belief — the fear, really — that public attention and affection are finite resources, and that the creation of new celebrities requires older ones to be discarded.”

At The Ringer, Lindsay Zoladz looked at the movie within the context of Lady Gaga’s career, noting “‘A Star Is Born’ is at once emotionally operatic escapist entertainment and — almost paradoxically and at times maybe even in spite of itself — a movie so dizzyingly meta that it leaves your head spinning for days.”

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

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