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Newsletter: Indie Focus: New discoveries with ‘Hail, Caesar!’ ‘Tumbledown’ and ‘Southbound’

Hello! I’m Mark Olsen, and welcome to your weekly field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

This week sees another new episode of the television program hosted by my colleague Rebecca Keegan and me on Ovation TV. This time we welcome supporting actors Sylvester Stallone, Mark Ruffalo, Paul Dano, Joel Edgerton, Michael Keaton and Seth Rogen. The chemistry in the room for this one was off the charts, a mix of curiosity and admiration.

The Envelope: Supporting actors

The Envelope gathers some of the actors whose  performances in supporting roles earned praise in 2015 to chat about their work and the industry, including, standing from left, Joel Edgerton, Seth Rogen and Mark Ruffalo, and, seated, Paul Dano, Sylvester Stallone and Michael Keaton.

(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

This past week we had a terrific Q&A with director Matthew Heineman after a screening of his Oscar-nominated doc “Cartel Land.” This upcoming week we’ll have Evgeny Afineevsky with his “Winter on Fire.” Check back at events.latimes.com to keep up on everything that’s happening.

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Nonstop movies. Movies nonstop.

‘Hail, Caesar!’

Josh Brolin

Josh Brolin in Joel and Ethan Coen's "Hail, Caesar!"

(Alison Rosa / Universal Pictures)

In these parts, a new movie from Joel and Ethan Coen is always something to get excited about, in no small part because of the mystery of what exactly we are going to get. Their latest, “Hail, Caesar!”, is an oddball homage to Hollywood’s Golden Age while also an unexpected rumination on faith, commitment and facing the future. Starring George Clooney, Josh Brolin and Alden Ehrenreich, there are a slew of dazzling cameos from the likes of Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill and Frances McDormand. It’s one of the Coens’ head-scratchers, which leaves you wondering “What was that movie about?” and hungry to see it again.

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In her new position at as film critic at MTV, Amy Nicholson wrote of the Coens and the film, “They’re obsessed with faith in the way a kid too old for Santa spends his last Christmas determined to disprove him. In film after film, they’ve fixated on morality and justice — the big questions underpinning every religion — while ultimately concluding that none of it matters. Bad people win, good people lose, and eventually everyone dies.

In Slate, critic David Ehrlich asks, “What is ‘Hail, Caesar!’? What isn’t ‘Hail, Caesar!’? It’s a comedy, a noir, a historical epic, a musical (of two different varieties), and a melodrama. It’s a movie about the glory days of the industry that churns them out, and how the system so often resembled 1,000 spinning plates wobbling in perfect harmony for a split second. It’s a film about faith, and the pivotal role that it plays in one man’s search for meaning amidst the chaos of existence. It’s a tale of the Christ, told by two Jews who wouldn’t trust Jesus to save a cat out of a tree, let alone someone’s mortal soul. That is to say: It’s a Coen brothers movie, and one of their very best.”

The movie overlaps somewhat with the essential-listening podcast “You Must Remember This.” The previous season of YMRT covered MGM and had an episode on the real-life basis for Brolin’s character, while the just-started new season is all about the Hollywood blacklist. The connection is a funny coincidence worthy of the Coens themselves.

‘Tumbledown’

Rebecca Hall in “Tumbledown.”

Rebecca Hall in "Tumbledown."

(Seacia Pavao / Starz Digital)

There’s a lot of movies out there, and it can be hard to keep track of them all. (That’s what this newsletter is in part for, apparently for me as well as its readers.) I’d heard some rumblings about this movie called “Tumbledown” with Rebecca Hall and Jason Sudeikis and figured it was going to just pass me by, until I saw some folks talking about it on social media. I gave it a look and it’s worth tracking down.

“There’s nothing like a love triangle in which one of the three people involved is both famous and dead,” wrote Mike D’Angelo at the A.V. Club. “As a rom-com, ‘Tumbledown’ is more mildly amusing than funny, but the dramatic moments frequently sing.”

Writing for Tribune News Service, Katie Walsh said “There’s a relaxed and comfortable sensibility to ‘Tumbledown,’ which eases the conversations of death, grief and legacy that it undertakes.”

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The Times’ Susan King recently spoke to Sudeikis about his role in the film.

‘Southbound’

‘Southbound;

Fabianne Therese, left, Hannah Marks and Nathalie Love in "Southbound."

(Orchard)

Being an indie horror filmmaker has got to be a tough life, so it makes sense that those invested in it seem to band together in a tightknit community. The anthology film — a series of short films, interconnected or not, presented together — has come back over the past few years as a way to spotlight horror talent. The new “Southbound” holds together remarkably well overall while also showcasing the individual talents of Roxanne Benjamin, Patrick Horvath, David Bruckner and the team know as Radio Silence.

At Film Comment, Nicolas Rapold wrote, “Loosely centered on a stretch of highway in the American West, this anthology of five horror tales is the rare group effort without a dud, as it cruises through variations on the genre with style and confidence.”

“These are fragments more than complete stories, and the incompleteness is its own kind of creepiness,” Neil Genzlinger said in the New York Times, adding, “The stories sometimes are vaguely linked, but the filmmakers (several had a hand in the 2012 horror anthology ‘V/H/S’ but have upped their game here) aren’t after tidy tales, neatly connected and concluded. They know that the human mind finds loose ends unnerving.”

Seijun Suzuki retrospective

The UCLA Film and Television Archive has begun a series on the wild Japanese filmmaker Seijun Suzuki under the banner “Action, Anarchy and Audacity: A Seijun Suzuki Retrospective” and that title about sums it up. The series runs through March 13.

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If you were making a movie and the characters walked into a theater, the movie on the screen there might well be a Suzuki picture, as his work exists in some cracked dreamscape of genre tropes, overheated sexuality and a bit of mad ferocity.

In the Wall Street Journal, David Mermelstein wrote a very fine overview of the series and Suzuki’s career.

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


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