Indie Focus: Getting ready with Summer Movie Sneaks

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

You may have noticed that “Avengers: Endgame” opened this week. On our entertainment podcast, “The Reel,” I was joined by Justin Chang, Sonaiya Kelley and Jen Yamato to discuss it. We split our talk into two parts, one without spoilers and then one very much with spoilers. So there is something for both before and after you see this final movie in the current iteration of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Also opening this week is “Body at Brighton Rock,” written and directed by Roxanne Benjamin, a gripping thriller about a young woman who finds herself stranded overnight in a forest. Benjamin sat down with me for a conversation we’ll be publishing on “The Reel” soon.

We’ll have more screening and Q&A events of our own coming up soon. For info and updates, go to

"The Lion King," directed by Jon Favreau and featuring the voices of James Earl Jones as Mufasa and JD McCrary as Young Simba. Disney Enterprises Inc.

Summer Movie Sneaks

The LAT published our Summer Movie Sneaks preview this week, and as usual it’s a handy primer of all the movies you need to know about over the next few months.

Josh Rottenberg ranked the summer’s movie franchises by box office, including “Spider-Man,” “X-Men,” “Men In Black,” “Godzilla” and “John Wick.”

“We really try to weigh, what is in the contract with the audience? What do they want to feel? What are specific moments that, if you are going to change or lose them, you do so at your own peril?” said Sean Bailey, Disney’s president of production.

Emily Zemler wrote about the production design of “Rocketman” and “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood” and how they take very different approaches to re-creating a period feel for Los Angeles.

Jen Yamato took a look at the horror movies of summer – a genre not just for Halloween anymore! Keeping audiences stone-cold scared during the dog days of summer will be movies such as “Ma,” “Annabelle Comes Home,” “Brightburn,” “Midsommar” “Tigers Are Not Afraid,” “The Perfection” and “It: Chapter 2.”

Beanie Feldstein, left, and director Olivia Wilde on the set of Wilde's directorial debut,
Beanie Feldstein, left, and director Olivia Wilde on the set of Wilde's directorial debut, "Booksmart." Francois Duhamel / Annapurna Pictures

Amy Kaufman spoke to Olivia Wilde about the influences behind her teen comedy “Booksmart,” starring Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever, including unexpected choices such as “Training Day” and “The Big Lebowski.”

Amy also took a look at documentaries to keep an eye out for, including “Ask Dr. Ruth,” “The Biggest Little Farm,” “This One’s For the Ladies,” “Maiden” and “David Crosby: Remember My Name.”

Sonaiya Kelley spoke to Andrea Berloff, director of “The Kitchen,” a story of mob wives striking out on their own starring Melissa McCarthy, Elisabeth Moss and Tiffany Haddish.

“‘The Kitchen’ hit at exactly the right time that I was feeling angry enough to think to myself, 'What would happen if women could take over? What would that look like?’” Berloff said. “[Because] the Irish mafia is not all that different from Hollywood.”

Randy Lewis looked at “Yesterday,” which imagines a world in which the Beatles did not happen, speaking to director Danny Boyle and writer Richard Curtis.

Michael Ordoña spoke to Annie Potts about returning to her role as Bo Peep in “Toy Story 4.” Among those doing voice work as new characters is the impressive cast of Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. And of course returning to his role as Woody is Tom Hanks.

“I got to work a lot with Tom,” Potts said. “Any day as an actor working with Tom Hanks is a pretty wonderful day. This new, astonishingly modern Bo Peep and working with Tom — it doesn’t get much better than that.”

And I spoke to stars Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista and director Michael Dowse about the action comedy “Stuber.” The movie makes the first starring role for Nanjiani in a studio movie, following his being nominated for an Oscar for the screenplay to “The Big Sick.”

“Honestly, being an actor makes me a better writer and being a writer makes me a better actor,” said Nanjiani. “I think they all sort of feed into each other.”

Oleg Ivenko, left, as Rudolf Nureyev and Ralph Fiennes as Alexander Pushkin in a scene from
Oleg Ivenko, left, as Rudolf Nureyev and Ralph Fiennes as Alexander Pushkin in a scene from "The White Crow." Larry Horricks / Sony Pictures Classics

‘The White Crow’

Directed by Ralph Fiennes and written by David Hare, “The White Crow” tells the story of Russian ballet dancer Rudolph Nureyev and his defection from the Soviet Union in 1961. Oleg Ivenko, also a dancer, plays Nureyev and the cast also includes Fiennes and Adèle Exarchopoulos.

In his review for The Times, Kenneth Turan wrote, “Subject and style could not be more different than in “The White Crow,” but that fusion of opposites has resulted in an involving biographical drama that rarely puts a foot wrong. … Nureyev’s highly dramatic, unexpected story has been brought to the screen in an impeccably classic way.”

For the Times, Laura Bleiberg spoke to Fiennes, Hare and Ivenko about the film. As Fiennes said of what made Nureyev so special, “It’s only a few people who can transcend the technique of ballet to something that’s truly expressive. … I’ve sat through some traditional ballet productions where it was hard for me to engage until a dancer comes on that has something inside them.”

In her review for the Tribune News Service, Katie Walsh said that Ivenko “is like a caged bird, eyes flashing, wings batting. He is an astonishing discovery who carries the unique biopic, a political thriller dressed up as a dance movie.”

Laura Dern, left, as Laura Albert and Kristen Stewart as Savannah Knoop in the film
Laura Dern, left, as Laura Albert and Kristen Stewart as Savannah Knoop in the film "J.T. LeRoy." Allen Fraser / Universal Pictures Content Group

‘J.T. LeRoy’

A notorious literary scandal is the subject of “J.T. LeRoy,” in which Laura Albert and Savannah Knoop perpetrate a hoax of just who is the author of the books that became celeb faves around the turn of the 21st century. Laura Dern plays Albert and Kristen Stewart plays Knoop in the movie, directed by Justin Kelly and co-written by Kelly with Knoop.

In his review for The Times, Robert Abele wrote, “Simply put, if Albert hadn’t created J.T., someone would have had to invent Albert and Knoop just so Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart could play them, respectively. They’re a magnetic pair of unlikely co-conspirators — the mad scientist and her coaxable charge — and they each bring to bear their careers’ worth of awkward outsiders so that this otherwise blasé rehash of the tale’s particulars at least simmers with performance brio.”

In the New York Times, Manohla Dargis compared the film to the 2016 documentary “Author: The JT LeRoy Story,” noting, “‘J.T. LeRoy’ is a tougher, better movie than ‘Author’ and generally comes off as more honest. … It focuses on Savannah’s role in the fraud, peeling back the details — physical, psychological — in a masquerade that rather astonishingly lasted some half-dozen years. Anchored by its two excellent leads, the movie is sympathetic and, for the most part, unsentimental.”

For Mubi Notebook, Willow Catelyn Maclay reviewed the film, specifically addressing its depiction of identity via the performances by Stewart and Dern, writing, “Kristen Stewart is ace casting in the role of Knoop, because she’s frequently reckoned with the way her body appears on camera and tends to queer even straight characters through her own movements and body language.”

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